Sunday, December 10, 2023

City opens invocations to all

Staff Writer | April 17, 2022 1:08 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — Pastor Aaron Richner with The Cause Church opened the April 5 City Council meeting with a prayer.

“Lord Jesus, we love you so much. We love you because you first loved us,” he said. “We worship your great name.”

Richner went on to say the beginning of wisdom was found in the fear of the Lord, and prayed that “We would walk in that fear of the Lord, that awe, that reverence and that worship.”

He wrapped up by praying for the city and “all those that this council influences."

“God, I pray for your blessing, your strengthening, and your protection and yes, your wisdom on every member of this governing body. And I pray, God, they would know you even personally, that you would continue to fill them with your Holy Spirit, and lead them and guide them.”

An invocation, dating back to at least 1970, has opened City Council meetings.

And for nearly two decades, pastors leading those invocations have been members of the local Ministerial Association, which has handled the invocation schedule.

That’s about to change.

The city recently created an online signup where a person can register to lead the invocation.

The May 3 meeting will be led by John Pulsipher with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is not a member of the Kootenai County Ministerial Association.

Coeur d'Alene Mayor Jim Hammond said several council members asked about opening the invocation to churches and pastors who are not with the Ministerial Association, a Christian organization.

He agreed to try it.

“We’re giving them the opportunity to go ahead,” he said.

Hammond said there were no complaints from faith leaders that they couldn’t lead the invocation. He said he just agreed it should be open to all faiths.

“We’re seeing if this works,” he said.

The rest of the invocation slots have already been taken through the year’s end. All were taken by pastors of Christian churches shortly after the city opened sign up.

Paul Van Noy is president of the Ministerial Association, which has about 50 members. He has scheduled pastors for the invocation for nearly 20 years and is concerned about the change and its potential impact on the city.

“My biggest concern is that the invocation is indeed an invitation to the Lord for his presence, leadership and guidance in our community,” he said. “It is an invitation and request of the Lord to give wisdom and his counsel to our council members.”

Van Noy said he has been asked to schedule occultists and cult leaders and has declined.

“Who we invoke becomes very important to me,” Van Noy said. “If a person is invoking another god, a different spirit, that’s a problem.”

Van Noy said he is opposed to “invoking a spirit into our community and upon our councilmembers that may be an unclean spirit, a false Jesus.”

Councilmembers Dan English, Christie Wood and Dan Gookin support opening invocations to all religions.

Wood said she appreciates the ministerial association’s prayers and blessings over the years, but said the change is positive “because by design it is inclusive and will allow for more churches to participate."

She said she looks forward to many different faiths sharing their message through prayer.

“The benefit is our citizens will see their pastors and their faiths represented, and feel the inclusion a government entity needs to provide,” Wood wrote.

English shared similar comments.

“My sense is that the intent is to offer the chance for giving the opening blessing or prayer to a wider range of churches which would likely include other faiths,” he wrote.

English said many churches are not members of the evangelical association.

“It may have been more representative of our local church community in the past but I don't think it is these days,” he wrote. “I don't see any drawback to the change other than some might question why have an opening prayer at all for a secular event.”

Gookin agreed.

“I think we need to hear from more different types of pastors and religions in the area,” he said.

He said it would be great if the city followed the example of Congress and had different denominations lead the invocation.

Gookin said he asked past mayors to open the invocation to other faiths but they preferred to let the Ministerial Association handle it.

“I applaud the mayor for making this change,” he said.

The only problem Gookin saw was if someone claiming to be a preacher signed up for the invocation, then “starts spouting something that may be a little surprising.”

Pastor Ron Hunter said he was involved in invocation scheduling in the past.

"I inherited it when I came here,” Hunter said. “The City Council didn't want to be responsible to make religious decisions.”

While some might see the invocation as a ritual, Hunter said it’s much more.

“Those of us who are believers in God do not see it that way,” he said. “To invoke the name of someone is an awesome thing.”

The invocation is not a time to preach or do evangelical work, Hunter said, but to bless the city’s leaders and ask God to give them wisdom.

Hunter said opening the invocation to all religions could result in a witch casting a spell on the city during the invocation.

“Does that help us?” he asked.

Renata McLeod, Coeur d'Alene's municipal services director and city clerk, said invocations are mentioned in meeting minutes dating back to at least 1970.

The city sent letters in late March to churches within city limits inviting pastors to sign up on the city’s website to lead an invocation.

The letter stated the intent of the invocation “is to provide a blessing upon the meeting and its leaders in 1 to 3 minutes at the beginning of the meeting.”

The city does not review or require submission of invocations in advance of the meeting, but does provide guidelines:

  • Invocations may contain sectarian language — in other words, the prayer can be specific to a religion, faith, person, etc.
  • An invocation should not seek to proselytize (convert) anyone.
  • An invocation should not disparage other faiths.
  • An invocation should not threaten those with different beliefs with hell, damnation, or other punishment.
  • An invocation should not be politically biased.
  • Invocations should be solemn and respectful in tone.

Van Noy said he was disappointed, but not surprised, by the city's decision to open invocations to all religions.

"Our city officials apparently do not believe that the invocation does indeed seek for the leadership and presence of the Lord — or they would not ask for a more inclusive approach," he said. "A more inclusive approach may invoke the presence of the so-called deity they pray to or otherwise communicate with.

"The ramification and consequences might have devastating results in our community," Van Noy said.

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