Council votes to stop ‘ritual’ of prayers before its meetings begin

Weston Town Hall. Picture: Mark Atherton

Weston Town Hall. Picture: Mark Atherton - Credit: Archant

Christian prayers will no longer be said before meetings after councillors voted to scrap them.

For years North Somerset Council meetings have begun with a prayer beforehand, but they will no longer take place despite proposals to replace them with a 15-minute 'period of reflection' led by a 'variety of spiritual and voluntary groups' being rejected.

Cllr Caritas Charles proposed the motion on September 24 and wanted to 'give a voice to our wider community'.

He said: "North Somerset is a vibrant and diverse community, we should be celebrating our diversity and inclusivity.

"In a world where we seem to be driven to divide and hate each other, the current arrangement of prayers does not give a voice to our wider community.

"Although we are a majority Christian district we have a plethora of faiths represented.

"We are also a changing district in changing times and we need to reflect that."

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Calls to open the floor to other faiths and community groups were described as 'comfortable but meaningless'.

Cllr John Crockford-Hawley said the motion 'missed the point'

He said: "For those of a religious persuasion, prayer is indeed important, for agnostics, it's questionable, and for those who are atheists, it's pointless.

"I think this motion misses the point because the prayer itself has morphed into a ritual.

"I know a small number of Muslims and not one of them has ever expressed concern about Christian prayers at the start of meetings.

"It seems greater offence is taken by those without faith than those with it."

He suggested dispensing with prayers altogether, which members voted in favour of.

Cllr Ann Harley said a moment of reflection would become 'a battlefield' while deputy leader Mike Bell said the authority should not 'waste time navel-gazing on issues that do not affect residents'.

Cllr Peter Bryant added: "Since the millennium we have been seeing huge changes.

"Here we are on the threshold of what I think is making a very important change again.

"I'm not a practising Christian but I hold all the tenets and aspirations of our forefathers who have said these prayers over hundreds of years in councils like this and in central Government."