HEART OF ALENE — Pastor Aaron Richner of 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 love your big name.”
Richner went on to say that 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 concluded by praying for the city and “everyone 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, that they’ll even know you personally, that you’ll continue to fill them with your Holy Spirit, to lead them and guide them.
An invocation, dating at least from 1970, opened the meetings of the municipal council.
And for nearly two decades, the pastors who lead these invocations have been members of the local ministerial association, which manages the invocation calendar.
That’s about to change.
The city recently created an online registration where a person can sign up 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 part of the Ministerial Association, a Christian organization.
He agreed to try it.
“We give them the opportunity to move forward,” he said.
Hammond said there were no complaints from religious leaders that they could not lead the invocation. He said he had just agreed to be open to all faiths.
“We see if it works,” he said.
The rest of the summoning slots have already been used up until the end of the year. All were taken away by Christian church pastors soon after the city opened.
Paul Van Noy is president of the Ministerial Association which has about 50 members. He has programmed pastors for the invocation for nearly 20 years and worries about the change and its potential impact on the city.
“My greatest 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 a request from the Lord to impart wisdom and guidance to our council members.”
Van Noy said he was asked to program occultists and cult leaders and refused.
“Who we invoke becomes very important to me,” Van Noy said. “If a person invokes another god, a different spirit, that’s a problem.”
Van Noy said he opposed “the summoning of a spirit in our community and on our council members who might be an unclean spirit, a false Jesus.”
Council members Dan English, Christie Wood and Dan Gookin support opening the invocations to all religions.
Wood said she appreciates the ministry association’s prayers and blessings over the years, but said the change was positive “because by design it is inclusive and will allow more churches to participate. “.
She said she looks forward to many different religions sharing their message through prayer.
“The upside is that our citizens will see their pastors and religions represented, and feel the inclusion that a government entity must provide,” Wood wrote.
English shared similar comments.
“My sense is that the intent is to provide the opportunity to give the opening blessing or prayer to a wider range of churches which would likely include other denominations,” 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 today,” he wrote. “I don’t see any downside to the change other than some might wonder why have an opening prayer at all for a secular event.”
“I think we need to hear more from different types of pastors and religions in the region,” he said.
He said it would be great if the city followed Congress’ lead and had different denominations lead the invocation.
Gookin said he asked former mayors to open up the invocation to other faiths, but preferred to let the Ministerial Association deal with it.
“I commend 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 and then “starts spouting something out which can be a little surprising”.
Pastor Ron Hunter said he has been involved in planning invocations in the past.
“I inherited it when I got here,” Hunter said. “The city council did not want to be responsible for making religious decisions.”
While some might see the summoning as a ritual, Hunter said it was much more.
“Those of us who believe in God don’t see it that way,” he said. “Invoking someone’s name is a great thing.”
The invocation is not a time to preach or do gospel work, Hunter said, but to bless city leaders and ask God for wisdom.
Hunter said opening up the summoning to all religions could result in a witch casting a spell over the town during the summoning.
“Does this help us?” He asked.
Renata McLeod, director of municipal services and city clerk of Coeur d’Alene, said invocations are mentioned in meeting minutes dating back to at least 1970.
The city sent letters in late March to churches within the city limits inviting pastors to register on the city’s website to lead an invocation.
The letter stated that the intention of the invocation “is to provide a blessing to the meeting and its leaders within 1-3 minutes at the start of the meeting.”
The city does not review or require the submission of invocations prior to the meeting, but does provide guidelines:
- The invocations may contain sectarian language – in other words, the prayer may be specific to a religion, faith, person, etc.
- An invocation must not seek to proselytize (convert) anyone.
- An invocation must not denigrate other religions.
- An invocation should not threaten those who hold different beliefs with hell, damnation or other punishment.
- An invocation must not be politically biased.
- Invocations should be solemn and respectful.
Van Noy said he was disappointed, but not surprised, by the city’s decision to open invocations to all religions.
“Our city officials apparently don’t believe that invocation does indeed seek the leadership and presence of the Lord — or they wouldn’t ask for a more inclusive approach,” he said. “A more inclusive approach can invoke the presence of the so-called deity they pray to or otherwise communicate with.
“The ramification and consequences could have devastating results in our community,” Van Noy said.