by S Lowe 5THE FM newsonline wattlerangenow
Almighty God, survived the ‘spill’ motion brought on by Cr John Drew at Wattle Range Council’s February meeting Tuesday 9th February. Although the vote came out in His favour, clearly there are members of council who don’t support Him but were conscious of the community’s views and voted accordingly for the inclusion of Almighty God in an amended version.
Votes were swayed with heavy campaigning by Cr Drew before the meeting and during the meal break for councilors to accept an amended version to his original suggestion.
Several councilors, who had not been in favour of removing the Council Prayer, or of the suggested alternative verse by Cr Drew, agreed to it after Almighty God was added to the prayer. Cr Drew said he added these two words in response to the back lash he had experienced in recent days. He said he would have been happier to leave God out altogether. The community had shown they were not happy with his exclusion of God entirely and the last few days had been difficult, he said.
The Mayor asked Council if they would accept an amendment to Cr Drew’s initial suggested prayer, to now include ‘Almighty God’. It was moved by Cr Drew, Seconded Dennis Muhovics and passed by Council.
The Mayoral opening prayer, used since 1997 and read for the last time at council at Tuesday’s (Feb 9th) meeting said:-
“Almighty God, we ask you to grant your blessing upon the work of this Council. Direct and prosper its deliberations to the advancement of your glory, and the wellbeing and welfare of the people of the district.”
Cr Drew’s motion removed all reference to God and suggested the following with a focus on self and a prayer directed to no-one:-
“We pray that in this meeting we speak honestly, listen attentively, think clearly and ‘decide wisely’ for the good governance of our district, and the wellbeing and welfare of the people.”
Statements from various churches strongly suggested the inclusion of Almighty God to which Cr Drew said may be a good compromise.
The revised version was similar to Cr Drew’s original suggestion but with the addition of Almighty God at the beginning and two small alterations suggested by Cr Lawlor saying a prayer needs to be to someone.
“Almighty God. we pray that in this meeting we speak honestly, listen attentively, think clearly and ‘decide wisely’ for the good of our district, and the wellbeing and welfare of our people.”
The 23 minute discussion at Tuesday’s council meeting drew many and varied responses.
Deputy Mayor Rob Dycer said he was initially against the change, saying the current prayer had been used for the 10 years he had been in council and he was happy with that, but he would support the new version with the addition of the words Almighty God.
Cr Gwenda Lawlor agreed that the inclusion of God was a good move as she thought a prayer needs to be to someone. She suggested taking out the word governance and change ‘the’‘ people to ‘our’ people.
Cnr Rob Thornett supported Cr Drew’s motion, saying people’s beliefs are a real part of them, who they are; but Australia has changed. A significant number of Australians are non- believers, atheists, or agnostics. “Prayer means nothing to me,” said Cr Thornett, “behaviour is up to the individual.” “I will vote for the change on behalf of the majority of Australians,” he said.
Cr Glenn Brown said he was happy to support an amendment but questioned the need for any change from the original. Cr Brown reminded council that most Service Clubs and organisations begin their meetings with a prayer or pledge or code of ethics. Cr Brown said he didn’t believe the wording affected the meeting or actions of participants but Christian values he learned as a child, have an influence on decisions he makes.
Cr Price agreed with Cr Thornett that he was happy for the original prayer to stay but added he only stands during Council prayer to support his fellow councillors; it means nothing to him, since making it very clear 4 years ago that he is a non-believer. Cr Price said his vote would be influenced by how the room voted and would also be influenced by the inclusion of the two words, Almighty God – which he was against.
Cr McGrath suggested the wishes of the community be considered and the matter be dealt with quickly as he had been contacted by members of the community who believed there were more important things for council to do than spend time changing a prayer.
Cr Dunncliffe said he believed that personal agenda often influenced matters such as this but he thought the inclusion of Almighty God was more commensurate with what the people wanted. He was happy with the amended version which included Almighty God.
Cr Burrows asked council if they were aware of the Westminster Confession of Faith; he was clear that he preferred the current prayer to remain but supported the amended version which included Almighty God, if there was to be a change.
Cr Burrows said today, (Wed) he believed that if our Federal Government still included God in Parliamentary prayers, Council should too.“The fundamental difference in the prayers and our actions, is self, “ he said today, ” who are we focussed on, our actions are meant to glorify God?”
Cr Burrows said he became aware of Cr Drew’s wishes to change the prayer as far back as December 2014 due to a conversation between Crs Drew and Cox and had been surprised that Cr Drew was not a Christian.
Mayor Gandolfi summed up the motion by saying he had read the Council prayer at every meeting he had attended since becoming Mayor. He was pleased Cr Drew had added Almighty God to the new version; he suggested the definition of a prayer is to God or a Deity. Mr Gandolfi reminded Council that the 2011 Census showed 59% of Wattle Range are Christians and 30% said they had no religion. He added that our nation stems from Christian Heritage; quoting the Father of Federation Henry Parks, Creator of Federation of Australia Alfred Deakin and saying the Commonwealth Constitution refers to Almighty God. The first petition received in Parliament in 1901 was to stand for the prayer. He also said that now was the wrong time to make such a change as it could be seen as undermining our Christian Heritage.
Cr Drew’s motion narrowly missed creating a division due to several councilors changing their proposed vote due to the amendment. The motion was successful with the additional words, “Almighty God,” 10 to 1, with Cr Price voting against because of the inclusion of God.
Baptist Minister Pastor Tzanakis said today on hearing of the inclusion of Almighty God in the amended version, “Praise be to God.” Pastor Tzanakis said he has a good relationship with council and sees between 30 and 40 employees each week but he was disappointed there was no consultation about this matter with him, as he is the Council Chaplain. Pastor Tzanakis has been the Council Chaplain for 15 months.
“ This motion takes us from reverence to severance, this action is unacceptable, it is another move to destroy our heritage, the Christian heritage that has built this country of milk and honey,” he said.
Cr Burrows said today, he was not aware if Pastor Tzanakis had been consulted before the motion by Cr Drew.
A caller to 5THE FM asked today, “what message is Council sending to our community by even considering such a motion, why are Christians being discriminated against by our Council, these are people we voted in to represent all of us, Christians too?”
Former WR Corcoran Ward Councillor Barry Stoddart said today, he is extremely disappointed that Council has changed the Civic Prayer from the original and was surprised that council has wasted so much time on debating this issue.
“ It appears that Cr Drew and his supporters are pushing their own agendas, rather than reflecting the views of the community.”
“I was the only one who put his hand up as a practicing Christian in the lead up to the 2014 Council elections and had I been re-elected would have vehemently opposed Cr Drew’s motion to change the Civic prayer.
Almighty God’ retained His position in the Wattle Range Council but with limits on His role. The motion by Cr Drew means God will no longer be asked to bless the Wattle Range Council and council will no longer seek to glorify God with it’s work.
Cr Drew has talked about wanting to remove God from the WR Council prayer for at least 12 months. He said on ABC SE today, he was only the spokesperson for a group of councilors who decided on this motion at an informal meeting. He also said he was surprised at the amount of interest it had created and had originally thought it (his motion) would be just a quiet thing.
Last year, at a council meeting I attended, Cr Drew said he also planned to form a motion to change council by-laws to preclude churches from local council grants, but the motion has not been formed.
Listeners of 5THE FM and readers of wattlerangenow said in the past few days, Council time could have better spent time campaigning for better health services and many other challenges in our community.
A letter to 5THE FM from Millicent resident Kathleen Stoddart said,
“I am very disappointed and hurt that John Drew has completely disregarded the feelings of the Christian Community in Wattle Range Council region. I always thought Council members were there for all people in this electorate whether Christian or non-Christian. By taking God out of the prayer it seems to me that they are there to push their own beliefs instead of other issues in the community for example, our hospital.
Christians in the WR Council area, pay their rates which council is happy to accept, but we are treated like we are out-dated and old- fashioned and don’t deserve any recognition or say.
I pray that all Christians will praise God and say, “Yes I believe in God, the Father Almighty and not be silent.”
Mrs Stoddart said today, (Wed) she was pleased ‘Almighty God’ was included in the amended version but could see no reason for the original to have been removed.