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Social Services board revises its prayer policy

By Kathy Chaffin
kchaffin@salisburypost.com
Jim Sides prayed at Tuesday night’s meeting of the Rowan County Board of Social Services, but that might not always be the case.
The board voted 3-2 to allow the person asked to give the invocation a choice of praying in the name of Jesus or calling for a moment of silence to allow for diversity of religion. Sides, who was elected board vice chairman earlier in the meeting, and Carl Ford, who represents Rowan County commissioners on the board, voted against the motion.
It was board member John Blair who brought up the question of whether they should continue to pray at the beginning of meetings.
“Not only do we pray, but it’s only a Christian prayer,” he said. “We serve Christians and Jews and Indians and Asians and anyone who comes through the door. I pray and probably everybody in this room prays, and we do it in unique ways.”
Blair said his concern with a Christian prayer is that it does not allow for the diversity of visitors to the board meetings and people served by the department. “I know we as a board embrace that diversity,” he said, “and to me, it kind of makes us a little hypocritical.”
Sides, a former Rowan County commissioner, responded that if large numbers of people attended the meetings, not having a Christian prayer might be something they might should discuss. But 99 percent of the time, he said, “it’s just us.”
The only people at Tuesday night’s meeting were board members, Social Services staff members, Salisbury car dealer Robert Boone and a Salisbury Post reporter. Boone is the only member of the general public who has attended recent meetings.
“I like things the way they are,” Sides said.
Ford said, “If you don’t want me to pray in the name of Jesus, you don’t want me to pray. That’s the only way I’m going to pray.”
Ruth Chaparro Kennerly, at her first meeting since being appointed by Superior Court Judge John L. Holshouser to replace outgoing chairman Dr. Nilous Avery as the fifth member of the board, said a moment of silence would be inclusive of other beliefs. “I’m OK with a moment of silence,” she said. “I’m OK with prayer.”
Ford said Rowan County is a Christian community, adding that having a prayer at the beginning of the meetings is nothing against people of other faiths.
“There’s a church on every corner,” he said. “I think it’s a nation formed on Christian principles.”
Ford said county commissioners pray before all their meetings and will as long as he’s chairman. “Even if a judge tells me to stop,” he said, “they’ll have to lock me up to get me to stop, and even then I won’t stop.”
Lillian Morgan, who was elected earlier in the meeting to chair the board, said people can pray without it being in the name of Jesus.
Ford said when he asks other commissioners to pray at their meetings, “I don’t tell them how to pray.”
Blair said he favored giving board members a choice of praying or calling for a moment of silence.
Morgan said that would allow board members to make their own decision on the matter.
Blair made a motion to allow for a choice of prayer or a moment of silence before the meetings. Kennerly seconded, and Morgan voted for it, carrying the vote.
Contact Kathy Chaffin at 704-797-4249.

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