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Ask the Patriarch 196
A church built on the agnostic premise

from: Anthony Ficociello

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I am looking for guidance. I want to start up a church built on the agnostic premise. I would like to find out more about what is talked about during sermons or lectures. My idea is to give people a forum to come to and receive an uplifting message without condeming any other religion but drawing on all of them and other sources to provide a path of enlightenment. 

I do not want to be a Jim Jones cult. I want more of a community than a dictatorship.

The Patriarch replies:

Anthony:

I am not aware of any "bricks-and-mortar" church operating anywhere with a strictly agnostic message, so it is difficult for me to provide authoritative advice in this area.

If you are looking for a model for a church, I suggest that you look at the Unitarian Universalists and / or the Quakers. Both are supportive of a variety of religious understandings including agnosticism, though individual congregations vary about where they are on the religious spectrum.

Is a physical agnostic church possible? There certainly is some demand - I regularly get asked where the local agnostic church is, but such requests are scattered all over the place. I have not seen a significant number of requests from one location suggesting that a physical church would be viable.

I hope my pessimism is unwarranted and that you can successfully develop a congregation. You wanted to know what to use for sermons. I suspect you can find some of the answers on this site. Yes, there is a lot of material here that may be considered unsuitable, but I suggest that at least 10% of the articles could form the basis of a reasonable sermon. You should be able to find two years worth of sermons here without difficulty.

There are many sermons on-line. For example, I quickly found some by looking at one of the many Universal Life Church sites - the forum on the ULC Seminary has a sermons section. It's just a matter of searching.

I would also suggest the Bank of Wisdom. Purchase one or more of their CD-Roms containing a wide assortment of classic freethought, atheist, and agnostic texts and you will find a lot of articles on which to build sermons.

However, people by-and-large do not join a church for the sermons unless the church has a highly charismatic preacher (in which case, content becomes surprisingly irrelevant.) They join for a sense of community. You have mentioned that very issue in your question. You have to offer something that makes people want to come together, and to get involved in. It is not about you giving sermons - rather it is about developing a team to serve the needs of your local agnostic community, and steadily expanding the team to include as much of the community as possible.

One community service you might consider is an agnostic "Sunday school." Many (far too many, in my view) non-believer parents join Christian churches solely for the purpose of getting some moral indoctrination for their children. If you and your team can develop a program teaching "morality without gods" to young people, you would be serving an unmet need in the agnostic and atheist community and would have the basis for a congregation meeting regularly in a genuine physical church.

I wish you the best of luck with this endeavour.

John Tyrrell