Meet Andy Pakula, Newington Green and Islington's non-religious minister
Even by Islington’s radical standards, Rev Andy Pakula stands out. A non-religious minister! But listen to his thoughts on religion and he’s not so radical after all. His words make sense. Rev Pakula leads New Unity, the UK’s only atheist church, if you don’t count the Sunday Assembly.
“A non-religious church comes as a shock to many people,” Rev Pakula tells the Gazette, “but often a pleasant shock. At New Unity, we recognise a large segment of the population doesn’t believe in a god. We also recognise the majority of the population is not interested in religious organisations. But a lot of people want community: to help other people or be helped. They long to make a better world for themselves and their neighbours. So we sing. We talk. We have music. We do social work [such as helping vulnerable migrants]. We’re a church, but with emphasis on community.”
New Unity has two congregations: in Newington Green and Upper Street. There are 120 members. Rev Pakula has been there since 2006 after uprooting from his native US.
“I grew up in a fairly secular household and didn’t have any interest in religion. I felt it caused so many problems. I never believed in a supernatural being or god of any kind. I thought religion was not for me – then I found there could be religion without the supernatural. I took it up and eventually had a big career change [from the biotechnology industry] because of that. I became a minister after four or five years of study. Then my wife had the opportunity to run an online retail start-up in the UK. We decided to come here for two years and head back. But somehow, this position appeared at London Unitarian, as it was then called, because it needed someone short-term. We started growing and they said: ‘Hey, why don’t you stick around?’ Both areas are amazing. Newington Green is a little village and has a lot of cohesion. Upper Street is such an exciting place. One thing I love about this part of London is we accept each other, and recognise we’re in a community.”
The church’s latest project is its “coming of age” programme, starting in September. It’s the non-religious equivalent to Confirmation in Christianity or Bar Mitzvah in Judaism, and offers young people between 12 and 14 to gain life skills as they begin the transition to adulthood. For more information, visit new-unity.org/comingofage