COLUMN: Is it still right to pray in New Westminster?

Dear Lord,
Please ensure my column is taken in the spirit intended.
Like the running of the bulls in Pamplona, just because something is tradition doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be revisited once in a while, to ensure it remains relevant.
In Jesus’ name,
Amen.

Dear Lord,

Please ensure my column is taken in the spirit intended.

Like the running of the bulls in Pamplona, just because something is tradition doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be revisited once in a while, to ensure it remains relevant.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen.

In New West, this is what we do: We pray.

To that end, City Hall has just selected a new volunteer minister to preside over city events. Rev. Georgina Harris of St. Mary the Virgin Anglican Church in Sapperton will serve for 2011.

There will be a Christian prayer at the May Day banquet, the annual citizenship ceremony, Remembrance Day, Canada Day, the annual volunteer recognition dinner and this year, at the swearing in of the new city council after the November municipal election.

In this city built on tradition, it seems, prayer is part of the package.

And it isn’t just city events.

At the recent annual general meeting of the Hyack Festival Society, the evening started with a Christian prayer. There was also a “piping in” of the society’s board of directors by a bagpiper in full regalia, a toast to the Queen and a round of “O Canada.”

Heady stuff.

Luckily we didn’t sing God Save the Queen because I’d have been lost. And there’s the rub.

I’m 40, not quite a youngster anymore, yet even I wriggle awkwardly in my seat at a civic function when I hear “in Jesus’ name.” I would suspect younger folks notice it even moreso.

New Westminster today is incredibly diverse, and in many ways City Hall is striving to better reflect the city it has become.

Last year’s apology to the Chinese for historic discrimination is a good example. First Nations roots have also come into tighter focus thanks to the efforts of Qayqayt chief Rhonda Larrabee of the New Westminster native band.

The Royal City isn’t the only city in Metro Vancouver that still prays, however.

Chilliwack, the Langleys, Abbotsford and Maple Ridge have prayers at key civic events. Surrey, Delta, Richmond, White Rock and Burnaby do not.

In New West, the Rev. Harris is charged with providing prayer that is ecumenical in nature, meaning it should be inclusive or representative of the whole Christian world.

And in the most recent Census, about 50% of residents called themselves Christian of some sort.

But is this a Christian city?

Should the separation of Church and State that exists in many legislatures around the western world include the affairs at 511 Royal Avenue?

Should prayer be kept where many people feel it belongs—in a church, or the home, car and heart of a Christian?

Or should a flaky alternative be found? Say, a prayer that rotates among a list of the city’s top four religions?

Some would say the prayer is simply a tradition, reflecting the early Christian heritage of our city’s European founders.

If that’s the goal, then we should follow the lead of the Township of Langley, which often includes a First Nations ceremony.

I doubt we’ll hear anyone on city council suggest scrapping the prayer anytime soon.

Might as well suggest cutting the police budget.

In 2008, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty floated the idea of cutting the prayer, and the province’s server had to be shut down due to the flood of angry emails.

To their defence, prayers are powerful things.

At city functions, they add a certain weight of ritual and tradition that would be difficult to replace.

The inauguration of a city council, for instance, should have a note of solemnity.

Politicians are being sworn in to serve an important role in society, as representatives of the people, and keepers of the public trust.

And they are also expected to be bold, and advance important issues even if it may cause them some discomfort.

Amen to that.

editor@newwestnewsleader.com