Councillors denied a request from resident Sharon Payou – who described herself as a “Christian and a concerned Metis Citizen of Dawson Creek” in a letter received by council – to allow Christians from various churches in the city to pray once a week for an hour inside council chambers. Payou wrote in her letter that, “Our intent will be to pray for the Mayor, Councillors and Citizens of Dawson Creek to walk with wisdom and genuine concern for others.”
She was in the gallery to hear council’s decision, and later elaborated on the reason for her request.
“It was a good idea for everybody to get together – all the different religions and their congregations – and just be together to unify the community and the city. That’s what Dawson Creek needs, it needs unity.”
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She added the meetings would have been open to people of other faiths as well, not exclusively Christians.
Payou said prayer meetings were held in council chambers several years ago but a subsequent mayor and council disallowed the practice, which she said is unfortunate.
“It’s sad that the mayor of councillors wouldn’t allow this to happen here, because it is for the good of the city.”
She added she would be checking into alternate locations to hold the meetings.
Her letter was received for information so no formal motion was required by council, but councillor Marilyn Belak did voice her opposition to the request, saying while she appreciated the well-meaning intent, she did not believe a public office was an appropriate venue for religious services.
“I firmly believe church and state are separate, and I think that’s a Canadian ideal,” she said.
She said when she was first elected to council, the mayor at that time was a Christian who invited councillors to hold services in the chambers, but a subsequent council voted unanimously to end the practice.
“I found it not to be right in our council chambers because we need to be here concentrating on all of our society at once,” said Belak. “I’m all for pausing, taking a deep breath and making sure our minds are focussed on doing what’s right for our community, but I don’t think we should be influenced by any group or groups, we need to keep our balance.”
She added endorsing any religious group would no doubt alienate any segment of the community that does not share that faith.
Belak said everybody has their own private beliefs and core values that they bring with them to public office, but she said council chambers is a place to discuss bylaws, not God.