13th January 2007
The Mayor of one of the nation's oldest boroughs has scrapped a Christian ceremony which began its meetings for more than 600 years.
Mayor Pruw Boswell, 64, decided that the prayers which have traditionally opened Totnes Town Council's meetings should be replaced with a 'quiet moment of reflection'. She said this would enable the council to be 'sensitive to others' needs' and that the prayers 'may offend other religions.'
Local clergymen had led the prayers which asked for God's help in making correct decisions since the 13th century. Meetings closed with the Lord's Prayer.
But officials are reported to have claimed the Christian ceremonies could offend councillors who follow other faiths or are atheists. None is understood to have complained about the prayers, said at the bi-monthly full council meetings. The best the Mayor could come up with was that 'members of the town council in the past were Buddhists.'
A daily newspaper found out that Mrs Boswell did not even know if there were actually any non-believers currently on the Council to be offended. The alleged Buddhists also dwindled to a solitary individual: 'We did have a Buddhist member a few years ago,' said Mrs Boswell, 'We probably have had members who were non-believers but I would not know who.'
However, the Reverend Gordon Davies, of
, said: 'I know many non-believers who found the prayers of great comfort because they are for the good of others. If people felt it was offensive they didn't have to join in.'
The decision to ban prayers took councillors completely by surprise. After prayers earlier this month, Mrs Boswell bluntly announced it would be the last time they would be said. She claimed it was part of 'a council streamlining package,' describing the abolition of 600 years of history as 'an historic moment'.
The same paper discovered that Mrs Boswell claims to be a Christian herself. She described the furore as 'A mountain being made out of a molehill. ... If people want to say prayers on their own they can - we have just taken away the person who leads them.'
Criticism came from within the Council: Town, district and county councillor Geoff Date said he was 'astounded' that the prayers had been axed.
'It is probably one of the longest traditions the council can lay claim to - and one of the most important things we do,' he said.
Plainly, a decision like this causes tensions where there were none before. The Mayor should retract this decision immediately and reinstate the prayers. Those in authority need to recognise that this country was founded on Christian ideals which inform our laws and culture. If we ignore our history and our heritage we will have no future.
There are echoes here of Chris (Lord) Smith's comment in the House of Lords during the debate on the Sexual Orientation Regulations. Secularists are happy just so long as Christianity is something we do quietly and privately indoors without frightening the governing classes. But it is exactly the public proclamation of Christianity, and the demand of the Lord Jesus Christ to be recognised as King of kings, Lord of lords and dare we add, Mayor of mayors, which is at stake.
Stephen Green, National Director, Christian Voice
READ: Gen 14:19,22; Deut 10:12; 1Sam 2:30; 2Sam 23:3; Psalm 24:1, 144:12-15; Prov 9:10; Eccl 5:8; Isa 42:1; Dan 2:47; Micah 6:8; Matt 6:33; 11:27, 28:18; Luke 12:8-9, 19:12; John 5:22-27; Rom 11:36; Eph 1:10; Phil 2:10; 1Tim 2:5, 6:15; James 4:12; 1Pet 3:22; Rev 19:16.