Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Leaving God out

You may remember that Bideford Town Council had been starting its meetings with a formal prayer since the days of Queen Elizabeth I. An atheist former town councillor objected to the practice. Aided and abetted by the National Secular Society, he took the council to court - and won his case.

The legislation that Communities Secretary Eric Pickles consequently rushed through to ensure councils could open their meetings in prayer if they wanted to evidently hasn't had the effect that was expected.

The Sunday Telegraph says 40 councils have recently decided either to drop or "water down" the practice of opening their meeting in prayer. More are considering following suit. Twenty-one authorities said they planned to continue with prayers without changes.

In order to accommodate several atheist or agnostic members of Glocestershire County Council, the council chairman has taken it upon himself to remove all mention of God and of Jesus from the council's traditional opening prayer.

The old prayer said

Let us pray for God's blessing on all those who serve the people of Gloucestershire, and especially on the work of this county council.

May He give us wisdom to carry out our duties; the humanity to listen to those we represent; the courage to do what is right; and the generosity to treat each other with respect. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The new prayer says

May we find the wisdom to carry out our duties, the humanity to listen to all, the courage to do what is right and the generosity to treat each other with respect. Amen.

Said the chairman, Brian Thornton: "I am very happy with it. There is now unity. I kept the words, but there is no longer a reference to calling for God's help. It does the trick."

Does the trick? How do they know now who they're praying to? And do they get an answer to the prayer?

In Cheltenham, where they used to open their meeting with prayer, the council chaplain now leads members in up to two minutes' silence.

Can someone tell us why it needs a chaplain to lead two minutes' silence?