Jerry DeWitt, a former evangelical pastor, led 80 people at an atheist church service in Louisiana this past Sunday, revealing that secular people can miss a sense of community.
"Oh, it's going to be so hard to not say, 'Can I get an amen?'" DeWitt told the congregation at his "Joie de Vivre: To Delight in Being Alive" service in Baton Rouge, The NY Times reported. "I want you to feel comfortable singing. And I want you to feel comfortable clapping your hands. I'm going to ask you to silence your cellphones, but I'm not going to ask you to turn them off. Because I want you to post."
The 43-year-old former preacher was raised Pentecostal and served in the Christian ministry for 25 years, before losing his faith in 2011 and leaving the church. The Times report explains that he found himself "ostracized in his hometown and from his family," but has since become a big voice for atheism, has led lectures on the topic of religion, and served as executive director of Recovering From Religion, a group that reaches out to people who have lost their religion.
As for his new project, the former pastor explained that he wanted to bring the positive aspects of church to the atheist community.
"There are many people that even though they come to this realization, they miss the way the church works in a way that very few other communities can duplicate," DeWitt said. "The secular can learn that just because we value critical thinking and the scientific method, that doesn't mean we suddenly become disembodied and we can no longer benefit from our emotional lives."
The former preacher had previously explained that the mission of this movement was to build community and bring excitement to freethinkers without "exposing them to any supernatural aspects."
More than 1,600 people had been sent an invitation for the atheist church service through Facebook, but not everyone reacted positively to the idea, with some describing themselves as "uncomfortable" with the thought of an atheist church.
A Pew Forum survey on Religion and Public life in 2012 found that one-fifth of the U.S. public today identify as religiously unaffiliated, and about 2.4 percent say that they are atheists.