Seven Sacraments of an Atheist Church.

Christian churches celebrate things called ‘sacraments’, which either mark significant moments in life or promote the spiritual life of the church family. They meet a deeply-felt need, and we would be foolish to overlook them. What might sacraments without god look like? While we might want to develop our own “branding” (there might be things that we, as Epicurean Humanists, specifically want to mention) we should be big enough to recognise that Humanist celebrants have already created wonderful ceremonies that we can learn from.

Welcoming

Baptism has developed as a way of welcoming new children into the family, and there are already Humanist services for this; for example Humanist Baby Namings. These are a way of gathering the community together to commit to supporting the parents.

Confirmation

Baby naming does not confer membership of the church, as that should be the choice of the individual. But some kind of welcoming of an adult into full membership would be a good thing to have. We can draw on the Christian idea of Confirmation as a starting point, or perhaps the Jewish Bar Mitzvah.

Communion

This is one of those sacraments that’s not about landmarks in life but about nurturing the life of the community. We’re not yet ready to start prescribing how this might look, but a shared meal (a “fuddle” as they call it in North Derbyshire) would be just the sort of thing to look at.

Marriage

Again, Humanist Weddings already exist, and can be inspiring and uplifting. I have a variant to suggest; as polyamory becomes a more open life-choice for people, where can they go for a ceremony that respects their commitment? As long as we don”t fall foul of the UK’s current marriage laws, I think we should be providing poly covenanting services.

Reconciliation

One of the great sacraments, a fount of tenderness and forgiveness, is the Catholic sacrament of reconciliation (often called “confession”). Confession is good for the soul, and we should absolutely make room for it. Again, this is not a landmark sacrament but one that can be approached repeatedly to help a person break out of toxic guilt.

Consolation for the Dying

The Catholic sacrament of “anointing the sick” is not meant only for the dying, but it can provide great comfort. There’s no reason on earth why atheists should be denied consolation when they confront their own mortality.

Consolation for the Living

For my seventh sacrament I’ve ditched the Catholic one of ordination – I’m not sure that being commissioned to a role in our church should be given any such status – and instead raised the funeral  up to the sacramental level. It’s not only the dying who have to confront their deaths, the survivors need consolation too. Humanist funerals are well established and must be an important part of our ministry.

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