Berlin Mayor’s Decision To Remove Lord’s Prayer Before Meetings Questioned

Berlin Mayor’s Decision To Remove Lord’s Prayer Before Meetings Questioned
Pictured, front from left, are Berlin Council member Jack Orris, Jay Knerr and Shaneka Nichols, and, back, Councilman Dean Burrell, Mayor Zack Tyndall and Councilman Troy Purnell. Photo by Charlene Sharpe

BERLIN – Changes in meeting procedure prompted questions from one longtime councilman this week.

During Monday’s meeting of the Berlin Town Council, Councilman Dean Burrell expressed concern regarding some operational changes implemented by Mayor Zack Tyndall in the weeks since his election. Tyndall has eliminated the recital of the Lord’s Prayer at the start of each meeting.

“Never have I heard a concern from any citizen about the Lord’s Prayer,” Burrell said. “I would have thought that change in operation or decision would have been presented to this group before it was changed and possibly heard public comment.”

Burrell, who has served on the council since 1994 and is now its vice president, congratulated the town’s new elected officials but offered some observations at the close of Monday’s meeting. He addressed the elimination of the prayer as well as Tyndall’s new practice of requiring a second for each motion made. He said not requiring a second to motions had been a longstanding tradition for the council.

“Being a five-member organization it has been felt that the thoughts and concerns of every individual on this council are important and should be addressed by the council, thus not requiring a second,” he said.

Burrell also asked why the prayer had been eliminated. Tyndall said he and the town administrator had made the change during a practice run of Tyndall’s first meeting as mayor.

“I’ve always grown up saying the Lord’s Prayer in most establishments that I have been a part of but I also recognized during my time as a councilmember that not everybody saw things the way that I see things,” Tyndall said, adding that elected officials represented the entire town. “So the town administrator and I had a discussion and despite our personal beliefs we felt it was time to become more inclusive. Many more people call Berlin home now than they ever have in the past.  With that being said we, well I and the town administrator, in conjunction with our legal department, decided that we would just begin the council meeting with the Pledge of Allegiance.”

Burrell said that with the prayer being such a longstanding tradition at meetings he would have expected the council and possibly the public to have been consulted about the change.

Residents expressed varying viewpoints in the wake of Monday’s meeting. Like Burrell, resident Jason Walter criticized the way the change was made.

“I find the swift and quiet move alarming,” Walter said. “No matter if one is for or against it, it is alarming to see a longstanding council tradition fall by executive fiat.”

Resident Jeff Smith praised Tyndall’s decision.

“I think it demonstrates our new mayor’s willingness to open city hall as a welcoming place for all members of Berlin’s community,” he said.

Resident Marie Velong feels the prayer was never appropriate for a government meeting.

“I used to wonder about people that were not of the Christian faith and how they felt having to say the Lord’s Prayer before their council meeting,” she said. “It is for all the people, Christian or not.”

Councilmembers Jack Orris and Troy Purnell acknowledged that it was the town’s mayor who ran council meetings.

“While the structure of the meeting is the purview of the mayor, for me, prayer is a personal expression of faith and I offer my own prayer before the meeting seeking guidance and wisdom for myself as well as my colleagues,” Orris said.

Purnell said he knew it was Tyndall’s prerogative but was still upset by the change in procedure.

“It’s a tradition that’s been part of Berlin as long as I can remember and I was sad to see it go,” he said.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

Alternative Text

Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.