Sunday, November 15, 2015

An Interventionist God Invoked At Inauguration

Author's disclaimer. What follows is an idiosyncratic report on the swearing-in ceremony for our municipal elected officials. 

The agenda for this inauguration and government meeting contained 15 items, 11 of which included explicit, and sometimes extensive references to God. This report tries to reflect that religious emphasis. 

A comment on this reflection and/or emphasis may be in order.  

There may be some people of faith who will see this report in a positive light, as an overdue affirmation of the importance of God in the life of our city and its leaders. There may be others who will feel that this report is critical of the scale and intensity with which overt religiosity was inserted into a municipal meeting.  

I intend neither affirmation nor criticism, To be neutral, I quote at great length from the participants in the meeting, allowing their message to go forth in their own words.  

However, I acknowledge having an opinion, which I give at the end of this post.  
Mayor Drew and 25 other elected officials were inaugurated last Tuesday in a ceremony full of thanks to God for his past actions, and entreaties for His continued intervention on behalf of our city and leaders.

Over one hundred supporters and family members attended the festive occasion in the Woodrow Wilson Middle School auditorium. State Legislators Joe Serra and Matthew Lesser, and State Senator Paul Doyle were in attendance, as was Superintendent of Schools Pat Charles.

Gospel singer Yvette Early sang the Star Spangled Banner, even without amplification her strong, rich voice filled the room. Woodrow Wilson Student Council President and Vice President Monica Flores and Emily Meeker led the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.

Reverend Moses Harvill, of Cross Street AME Zion Church, then gave the Invocation, which is a traditional beginning to inaugurations, graduations, and other public ceremonies. As is common, Harvill gave a prayer of entreaty for help from God, some of his prayers were the following:
        Lord, use each of us, all of us, to transform ... sorrow to joy.
        Lord, we heed Your presence and power to help make this community a great community.
        Lord, with Your help we know that failure is not an option.

Our city's Poet Laureate, Susan Allison, read a poem she wrote for the occasion, "Here we are Now in a Moment Like this One." Her words celebrated the community and our unique shared history. The full poem is HERE, the first stanza ended with the following:

       There was a moment like this one
       in 1784 when Jabez Hamlin
       became the first Mayor of Middletown,
       and we have continued
       in our small democracy within our
       current global  catastrophe, where empires
       fight violently in war, religion, racism…

Lieutenant Governor Nancy Wyman then administered the oath of office to Mayor Drew, who was flanked by his three young children, Ella, Jackson, and Jacob, and his expectant wife Kate. Wyman ended her remarks with the politician's traditional, "God bless."

The rest of the ceremony was formally the Biennial Meeting of the Common Council. Having assumed office, Mayor Drew called the meeting to order.

The meeting continued with what the program called an "Orison". This prayer was given by Bishop W. Vance Cotten, Sr. of Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church.  Cotten gave thanks to a God who intervenes regularly in our lives, and who prepared Dan Drew to help our city. Cotten began with Drew's education and his work as a journalist. The complete remainder of his orison:
And God we thank You that this prepared vessel worked as an academic grant writer at Sacred Heart University and as a planning analyst for CRT, Community Renewal Team.  
And God we thank You for this prepared vessel, who served on the Middletown City Council, and various town commission and committees. 
God we thank You because You prepared our mayor to be a usable vessel, to manifest Your role. And in 2011, Mayor Dan Drew closed the $8M deficit in the city budget and upgraded the city's bond rating with the lowest interest rate in the city's `history. And for that, we thank You. 
And so God we thank You because You prepared Mayor Dan Drew to improve the efficiency and efficacy of city government by beginning a large scale reorganization that will save taxpayers MILLIONS of dollars. 
God we thank You. We thank You for giving us a prepared vessel as mayor of the City of Middletown. 
And God there is so much more we could thank You for allowing Mayor Dan Drew to do, like restoring highly competent leadership to Middletown Police Department, opening several new businesses and manufacturers, including a major wholesaler on Middle Street. 
We thank You for a prepared vessel like Mayor Drew, who enacted a senior tax relief program which will significantly add seniors, and aid seniors on a fixed income. And who has renegotiated a large energy services contract for the City of Middletown, saving taxpayers MILLIONS! And has saved taxpayers $800,000 by reducing pension fund costs. 
And we thank You. We truly thank You for giving us a prepared vessel like Mayor Dan Drew for such a time as this. 
And God, I ask that You give our mayor a City Council, a Board of Education, a Chief of Police, a Chief of the Fire Department, and all who are in leadership of our great city, we ask that You give them favor, grace, and mercy, as only You can, to lead our city through it. 
And how can we close this prayer without thanking You for giving our mayor Dan Drew a wife like Kate, who is a loving and a great teacher. And God we thank You for allowing them to be parents of Ella, Jackson, and Jacob. And we thank You for the newcomer that's on the way, Lily Grace. 
And God we thank You in advance for how You are going to bless Middletown and the people in Middletown through the leadership of Your servant, Mayor Dan Drew. 
And God, we thank You in Jesus' name, for His sake. 
Council Member Rob Blanchard takes
oath of office from Mayor Dan Drew
Drew then administered the oath of office individually to the other 25 officials elected on November 3rd, ending each with ".... so help you God".

Mayor Dan Drew then gave an inaugural address whose power was enhanced by its brevity. Drew called for self-reflecton at the community and individual level, "We are limited by our own perspective. ... As we look out at the horizon ... we must ask ourselves who we are."

He also noted the power of the community, "We are and will be so much more than the sum of our parts."

And he looked forward to the challenges and changes in the future, "The tumult signals not the degradation of our society, but the opportunities within it. ... We will slough off the antiquated way of doing business."

He closed his address with an appeal for an interventionist God, "May God bless the City of Middletown."

The ceremony ended with a Benediction by Rabbi Seth Haaz, of Congregation Adath Israel.

He too spoke of the importance of community, "You will be most successful when you come together."
Author's disclaimer II.  I believe that the degree of emphasis on the role of God in our municipal government was inappropriate

This ceremony brought together all of the recently elected officials who represent us at City Hall, as well as other elected officials who serve in City Hall and in Hartford. It was an official meeting of the City's Common Council, presided over by the mayor. 

A municipal meeting, especially one which includes the swearing-in of 26 elected officials, should be inclusive. This meeting, which emphasized one particular kind of God, did not feel inclusive to those who do not believe in that particular kind of God. This would be true no matter what kind of God had been emphasized.  As Susan Allison wrote in her inauguration poem

     In a moment like this one
     We are Jewish, Catholic, Muslim, Hindu,
     Buddhist, Lutheran, Baptist, Zion, Pagan…
     And everyone who is in this moment,
     is making this moment. 


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Really?? REALLY??? I'm speechless.

Anonymous said...

Disgusting, tasteless speech.

cybermom said...

There is one god but which god is the one?

Anonymous said...

Congratulations to all of Middletown's newly elected officials of whatever faith they may be, if any. One of the great things about New England is that we do not wear our religious beliefs on our sleeves. We have a healthy reserve in this respect, which is well adapted to today's world where our neighbors likely have different religious beliefs, or do not believe in religion at all. I agree with Mr. Devoto that future civic ceremonies in Middletown should better reflect a healthy separation of church and state.

Brenda Wilson said...

What happened to the separation of church & state? The appearance of impropriety at this inauguration is remarkable.

Haircare said...

Without God we can do nothing! God bless American! Since they took prayers out of the school's our children have been dying from guns, knives, bombs & drugs. Since they have taken the 10 commandments out of the Supreme Court there have been several terrorists attacks on our country! We need to stop talking of a separation between God & state because when the twin tower fell everybody was praying & calling on God! Where was the separation then! I'm just saying!

Anonymous said...

Haircare, when the towers fell with two of my friends in it, I was not ..."praying & calling on God!". That would have been totally useless.

Anonymous said...

"If there is a God he is going to have to beg for my forgiveness."
Inscription on the wall of a Mauthausen concentration camp barrack.

If God has the time to guide Mayor Drew in preparing his budget, help football players make great catches, and tell our Presidents which countries to invade why doesn't he have the time to help the innocent men, women and children who die horrible deaths every day?

I am sure that many of the people in the twin towers on 9/11 were praying. They are just as dead as those that didn't.

You are welcome to believe whatever you would like. Just don't use government to force it on me.

Just saying!

Anonymous said...

What struck me about the ceremony was the inclusion of so many different religious and racial groups, as beautifully voiced through the poetry of Ms. Allison. It made me proud to be a Middletown resident. I recognize that many folks don't believe in G-d, but I think that as long as no one is telling you what you have to believe, you should be able to sit in a room and listen respectfully to people who have a deep faith in G-d without feeling threatened. While religion has proved to lead to great pain through history, such faith has also driven great civic engagement in the United States, especially with more marginalized constituencies.

Anonymous said...

It is not just at Middletown functions. This from the Washington Post (bold added):

PENDLETON, S.C. — Before Donald Trump took the stage for his first major rally since winning the New Hampshire primary, the Rev. Mark Burns led the crowd in a prayer that sounded like a pep talk -- and then gave a pep talk that sort of sounded like a prayer.

"Father God, in the name of Jesus, we're truly thankful for the life of Donald J. Trump," Burns said during the prayer segment Wednesday night. "We're thankful that you have created a man through the spirit of the Holy Spirit to give him the boldness to say what other people will not say, to do what other people will not do, to stand for our conservative rights."

Burns, an African American pastor in South Carolina who produces a gospel television show, ended the prayer by telling the crowd of several thousand people, “In Jesus’s name, if you believe it, shout ‘Amen!’ ” The crowd shouted “Amen!