Wanganui district councillors are split over whether or not God has any place around their council table.
The council has a tradition of opening each full meeting by reading aloud a short prayer, written for the city.
But at a council meeting yesterday, Mayor Annette Main raised the idea of not reading the lines "Eternal God, source of all wisdom" and "Amen" aloud, as a way of respecting all faiths around the council table.
The informal question drew a passionate response from both sides of the religious debate. As a result, it will be decided by a formal vote at the next full council meeting.
First-term councillor Clive Solomon said he was surprised to find councillors had to recite a prayer when he took up his council seat last year.
"Whatever our personal views are, we're a secular country and, while I have no objection to some form of spiritual guidance, I think those things are very personal and I don't see the need to have this statement read," he said.
But councillor Sue Westwood said the precedent would send the council down a "dangerous path" that could see councillors try to remove the city motto "Sans Dieu rien" – Without God, nothing – from its coat of arms.
Councillor Alan Anderson, whose wife wrote the personalised prayer to replace the Lord's Prayer, said modifying it would fly in the face of Whanganui's Christian founders. "It was not intended to be our affirmation; it was intended to be a prayer. It was intended to say to the people of this city that, just for one moment, we will step back and acknowledge we don't have the wisdom to deal with certain issues."
Councillor Ray Stevens took a pragmatic approach: "If you want to, then do it. If you want to abstain, then don't read it."
Ms Main said she had only "floated" the issue to see how strongly councillors felt about it. She then read the prayer aloud in full.
Wanganui District Council Prayer
Eternal God, source of all wisdom;As we reflect upon all those good things that we enjoy in this city and district, help us to make and keep our community a good place to be for all who live and work here.
Grant that through our deliberations and decisions we will provide wise and positive leadership, seeking to solve problems effectively and justly, so that with courage and compassion, vision and energy, we may instil in our community aroha and harmony.
- The Dominion Post