Atheists may have no use for churches, but for many doubters and disbelievers, a meeting space is still a must. And the Secular Hub, a Denver-based nonprofit that aims to attract a skeptical flock, needs a new one.
“The Secular Hub provides a physical location for secular individuals and organizations on the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains to find community,” explains Paul O'Brien, the Hub’s treasurer. “Over the past seven years, the Hub's membership has expanded to a point where it has outgrown its rented space in downtown Denver, and will be moving everything into storage this month to focus on purchasing a building.”
The rented space at 3100 Downing Street has served as a locus for "atheists, agnostics, freethinkers and humanists,” according to O'Brien. That demographic is growing, even as religion continues to hold sway over American politics and society. A study last year by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center found that nearly two-thirds of American adults call themselves Christians — but that’s a drop of 12 percentage points over the past decade. During that time, those who identify as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” rose to 26 percent, up nine points since 2009.
Unlike the local chapter of the Satanic Temple (profiled in a recent Westword cover story), the handful of organizations housed within the Secular Hub do not consider themselves nontheistic religions. They’re nontheistic, period. The distinction may seem slim, but it’s profound. The Secular Hub is a haven for those who approach all religions, with their trappings of ritual and ceremony, from a skeptical perspective. And while the Hub is more or less the opposite of a church, its need for a place to congregate is just as vital to the organization’s reason for being.
“Humans need community,” O'Brien says. “A physical location provides a place for people to gather together to learn, to support each other and to serve the larger community. Although many people are able to find this type of community at a church, for the non-religious it can be more challenging. There are many great secular organizations on the Front Range that do not have a physical location to meet, such as Freedom From Religion Foundation, Freethinkers in AA, Jefferson Humanists, Recovering From Religion and Boulder Atheists. The Secular Hub aims to provide a space for these organizations and individuals to meet.”
Like any organization that thrives on physical gatherings, the Secular Hub has had to curtail its in-person activities this year because of COVID. But with hope on the horizon with the release of a vaccine, O'Brien is looking forward to the resumption of in-person activities in the Hub's new space in 2021. In the meantime, the organization is raising funds to buy that new space through a GoFundMe campaign, although the going so far has been slow. The Hub's target is $228,000, but since the campaign was launched at the end of November, just a little over $1,000 has come in. Still, the group is pressing on, with virtual events to fill the void.
“The Secular Hub hosts a Sunday morning coffee and community as well as monthly pancake breakfasts, dinner and a documentary, Hub music jams, book groups and many speaking events on topics of interest to the secular community," says O'Brien. "Right now, we are hosting these events online, and invite the public to join us for these events and to become members of the Secular Hub.”
The Hub may be resisting the currents of mainstream religion in America, but its mission remains clear: “We want to create a permanent secular community center in the Rocky Mountain West.”
Amen to that.
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