Praying hands on a Holy Bible
Praying hands on a Holy Bible BrianAJackson

Are council prayers still appropriate?

PRAYER; acknowledgement of country; the national anthem: not all councils across the Northern Rivers share the same customs when opening meetings so what has led to the differences?

Voters in northern NSW chose representatives for five councils across the region in early September: Ballina; Byron Shire; Kyogle; Lismore and Richmond Valley.

Each council, in accordance with state law, has had codes of meeting practice in place for years that set out the rules governing agendas.

Codes of meeting practice have been updated periodically.

A perusal of COMPs in October showed members of two of the five councils were conducting an opening prayer at each of their meetings: Richmond Valley Council and Kyogle Council.

Both councils also opened meetings with an acknowledgement of traditional land custodians although their precise order differed: members of the Richmond Valley Council began with acknowledgement of country followed by prayer whereas the Kyogle Council COMP stated that prayer came before acknowledgement of country.

A spokeswoman for RVC said councillors voted for or against changes to COMPs during each term of council.

"The prayer is a reflection on a strong Christian society [but] we don't select one religion or church ,” she said.

"We usually invite a minister or pastor or church representative from any denomination throughout the local government area to conduct the prayer.

"We've had an Aboriginal pastor from the Northern Rivers, a Filipino pastor, someone from the North Coast Community Church.

"If there is no one from the community to do the prayer the mayor will just do Welcome to Country.”

The spokeswoman said when no church representative was available for Council's meeting on July 19 "prayer was read by the general manager” but the prayer may have been general "words of worship” rather than a script from any prayer-book.

Graham Kennett, Acting General Manager of the Kyogle Council said he thought the NSW government would include COMPs in proposed changes to the Local Government Act but Council had included an opening prayer at all Council and committee meetings for over 20 years.

He said whoever chaired the meeting read the following prayer but he had no information on "what the reason” for the prayer was:

""Almighty God, Ruler of all the Nations, we ask for your blessing upon this Meeting of Council.

"Give us your wisdom to work in harmony and direct and prosper all that we do to the advancement of your glory and the true welfare of the People of the Council Area. AMEN”

Members of Ballina Council were unique in their practice of either singing the national anthem at the start of each meeting or inviting a community group to sing instead: students from Ballina Public School sang the anthem at the council's most recent meeting on October 27.

Communication Liaison Officer Tracy Lister said Council's COMP was changed in 2008 to include both the anthem and an Acknowledgement of Country after concern from Cr Sue Meehan that meetings did not start with the Acknowledgement.

She said there was "no recent history of Council saying a prayer before the Council meeting”.

While the Lismore City Council COMP made no mention of any ceremonial rites at meetings, Media Coordinator Terra Sword said both prayer and Acknowledgement of Country had been included since at least the beginning of Jenny Dowell's time as Mayor eight years ago.

"I would like you to stand as I formally open this meeting by thanking Councillors and staff for their attendance and welcome all members of the gallery, and acknowledge the prior custodianship of the land by the Widjabul Wyabul people of the Bundjalung Nation” read the Lismore City Council Acknowledgement of Country.

The Lismore City Council prayer was as follows:

"Almighty God, we humbly ask you to grant your blessing upon this council, direct and prosper our deliberations to the advancement of your glory and the true welfare of the people of our city, NSW and Australia.”

Byron Shire Council took a simpler approach to meetings with neither anthem nor prayer included but a media spokeswoman said Acknowledgement of Country was introduced to the COMP in recent years.