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  • Writer's pictureStephen Paul

Sunday Assembly: Shelley's story

Updated: Aug 29, 2023

Shelley, 42, is a single mum who runs her own full-time business as a Change Management Consultant. She’s probably the busiest person I know – always doing something interesting and finding time amongst her many commitments to have fun with friends and involve herself in the wider community. “I know I’ve got a large network of friends already,” she tells me, “but I think it’s really important to share and branch out – to support community activities and continue to meet new people.”

She first came to Sunday Assembly in early 2016, after hearing about it from a friend at a party. “I’ve always been interested in creating community spirit and combatting social isolation, so it sounded really intriguing,” she says. “I was a bit nervous at first that it might turn out to be some kind of happy-clappy cult, but I quickly realised that everyone was actually genuine and wanted to have fun. I love spending time with such a varied group of interesting people that I might never have met otherwise.”

Shelley writes poetry, and found that Sunday Assembly gave her a perfect opportunity to share her work. She soon became our official ‘poet in residence’, performing her work regularly at the assembly and encouraging others to do likewise.

What does she like best about Sunday Assembly? “It’s just really fun and I love singing along to the live music. I wish I could give it more time – I can’t always make it to every assembly, so I enjoy it when I can fit in some of the other events, such as the coffee mornings and pub meetups. I find I can have deeper conversations with people at these, and get to know them better. Oh, and the quiz nights – yes, I love them!”

In less happy times, Shelley feels that Sunday Assembly has been a vital support network. “I went through a period of depression and anxiety last year,” she says, “and I found it to be a safe environment – somewhere I would be accepted when I really didn’t feel like going out and meeting people. Having a place like that is really important, as I came to understand how easy it is to become isolated when confidence is low, making it hard to socialise.”

Like many assemblers, Shelley has a religious background, having been a Jehovah’s Witness until she was 19. Because she didn’t conform to expectations of how she should think and behave, she found herself ‘cast out’ by the community. “It was such a shock,” she tells me, “leaving all my family and friends behind, my whole way of life – and it made me realise just how important that sense of community is.” And so, like many others, Shelley has found a truer sense of community outside religion.

I ask her if she has any special Sunday Assembly experiences to share, and she quickly homes in on a specific event. “It was when we were meeting at the Purple Turtle,” she says. “I read one of my poems which is about how love should not be constrained. A gay couple came up to me afterwards and both gave me a big hug and told me how much they related to the poem. That was really rewarding.”

I suggest that we finish the article with this poem, and she agrees. But first she makes a point of how much she appreciates the work that goes into making Sunday Assembly happen. “I’ve chaired a volunteer group myself before, and I know how much effort it takes to keep a group like this alive. There’s so much hard work put in by many different people – the band, the cakemakers, the front of house team, the committee – and not least, Stephen, for organising it all. I just want to say how grateful I am for all this.”

I don't understand the question

People love, people kiss. Why should we be constrained like this?

I hope our children learn to love regardless of the push and shove of what society would have us do, for if you love me and I love you, who cares what others think is right when life is such a precious fight.

What's better than to end a day, to say I'm happy, spent it in a way of consideration, love and passion, with no care for bias, prejudice or fashion. I'm only me, and I love, I need who cares which persuasion, sex, or creed - it's LOVE and that's a thing "we" lack and should I take a different tack, I just thank my life that I can find a way beyond a programmed mind, that says I must conform to some strange concept, that the wise (though dumb), prescribed as the path, but that's not my way who made them wise, so bold to say the shape of love - who can set that mould? Though they still try, critics new and old.

I'm sad for them, for they can't have known that feeling when you're all alone and then you find the one you need, for which your heart would beg and bleed to be together to the end your soul mate, your eternal friend. You love. you kiss, you join as one.

You cry, you laugh, soak up love’s sun.

So what difference could it ever make

which preferences we choose to take.

Love is love, it should not need to care,

for each love is different, cannot be compared.

Shelley runs the Facebook group Poems In My Pocket

She has also published two books of poetry

From Just a Seed: love, sex and consequences (co-authored with Philip Dumelow)

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