Time to axe the prayer?

Is it time to update the council prayer? Photo: FILE

By Shelby Brooks

The prayer that Cardinia councillors recite at the beginning of their monthly meetings has been called into question, with one woman calling it, “confronting“.

Pakenham resident Jessica Walton asked during question time in the last council meeting on Monday 19 April, why the prayer was still spoken.

Ms Walton said she didn’t believe a prayer had any place within local government.

“I found it quite confronting,“ she told the Gazette.

“Why should council be making decisions to glory God?

“It made me uncomfortable.“

She said the multicultural nature of the shire and the need to separate church and state surely meant it was time to axe the prayer.

“My preference would be if they did want to do a statement at the start, it would be a statement of affirmation acknowledging the diversity in the community or at least make the prayer more inclusive with the multiple faith groups,“ she said.

“I would think a significant portion of the community either don’t have a faith or grew up within a faith but don’t have a strong connection to it and believe in the separation of church and state.“

In December, Mornington Shire councillors voted to changed their prayer to a pledge to do the right thing by their community.

Policy and advocacy director for the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) Tony Edwards said MAV did not have a stance on council prayers at the start of meetings nor does it collect data on which councils include prayers in their meetings.

“Each council will make its own decision as to whether a prayer is part of the meeting agenda when they consider their meeting procedures and governance rules,“ he said.

“While a prayer was traditionally a part of a council meeting, we understand that there are now different approaches that are in keeping with changing community expectations.

“Some councils still say a prayer and some have replaced a prayer with an affirmation. When saying a prayer, it should be noted that some councils choose to have different faiths and cultures represented at each meeting as a nod to the diversity of their own community.”

Currently, the prayer that is read at the beginning of Cardinia Shire Council reads, “Almighty God we humbly request that you bestow your blessings upon this Council, direct and prosper our deliberations to the advancement of your glory and to the betterment of the peoples of Cardinia Shire. Amen.“

Ms Walton said she recognised it as a Christian prayer.

“I grew up in the Catholic church and to me is sounds Christian,“ she said.

“I guess it could be appreciated by people of other faiths.“

Ms Walton said the shire’s answer to her question was “unsatisfactory“.

In the response, the shire stated that to remove the prayer an amendment would need to be made to the Cardinia Shire Governance Rules at the discretion of the current councillor group and public consultation.