The Hutchinson Ecumenical Ministerial Association is out as coordinators of prayer before Hutchinson City Council meetings, ending — for now — an ongoing controversy in the city over prayer and politics.
It started after council member Steve Cook questioned the need for the prayer after surveying other governmental bodies in the region. He was concerned that non-Christians weren’t invited by the Association to provide the prayer.
Last month, the council rejected the idea of replacing the prayer with a moment of silence. It had asked the Association, which provided pastors to the Council meetings on a rotating basis, to include non-Christians. The Association, however, affirmed that it’s a Christian organization.
Last night, the Council eliminated the role of the ministerial alliance unanimously, the Hutchinson Leader reports.
The new policy does not end prayer before council meetings. It puts forth guidelines for the process of selecting and scheduling speakers to give the invocation, as well as guidelines for the speakers themselves.
Some of those guidelines include a three-minute limit for the invocation and participation is optional. And while the invocations do not need to be nonsectarian, speakers must not proselytize or promote any doctrine, faith, belief or dogma, and cannot disparage the views of others.
Violation of this policy may disqualify the speaker from giving future invocations.
The policy also states that a database of religious organizations within the city will be created, and city staff will send those organizations invitations to give the prayer. Respondents will be scheduled on a first-come, first-served or other random basis to deliver the invocations. Each speaker and organization is limited to giving the invocation twice per year.
The new policy ends a 52-year relationship between the City Council and the Christian ministerial organization.