The vicar of Horsham will take prayers before every full council meeting as part of his new role as chaplain to Horsham District Council.
Before last week members at the monthly full council meetings took it in turns to say a simple Christian prayer before business, but from now on - at least throughout Philip Circus’s chairmanship - the Rev Canon Guy Bridgewater will say them.
The newly elected chairman Mr Circus (Con, Chanctonbury) also named him as chaplain to the council.
Rev Bridgewater said: “I’m absolutely delighted to be asked to be chaplain. It will be good to be supporting the work of the chairman. I realise [the prayers] have been a political hot potato, but I think it’s all now been resolved.
“I think if it’s before the meeting, people can choose to join in for that part as they wish. It’s a sensitive issue, but that’s why I said ‘I pray’ and they can join with the amen if they wish. I want to respect people’s integrity.”
The controversy he refers to was in February 2012 when a court ruling brought against Bideford Town Council outlawed all authorities from holding prayers before meetings.
Following anger from councils across the UK, the Government’s Communities Secretary Eric Pickles MP overturned the ruling. HDC continued with the monthly prayers throughout.
Rev Bridgewater will also be one of the trustees on the new Chairman’s Trust Fund along with the vice chairman Christian Mitchell, outgoing chairman Leonard Crosbie, HDC chief executive Tom Crowley, HDC chief finance officer and editor of the County Times Gary Shipton.
Mr Circus said: “This will be the Horsham district’s own charity. It will be a chance to provide help to people in need who fall outside the charitable and statutory provision.
“Applications will be channelled through members of this council representing people they know in their wards. Councillors are very well equipped in identifying those in need.”
The Rev Bridgewater said: “I was very pleased to be asked by the incoming chairman and I’m very happy to support the charity which I am sure will support many folk in years to come.
“If there isn’t anything like this already, I’m surprised it hasn’t been thought of. It’s a good way for the council to have such a hands on effect on people’s lives.”
One of the first fundraising events for the Trust Fund will be at Mr Circus’s Civic Ceremony on June 23 at St Mary’s Church, Horsham when a collection will be taken.
Outgoing chairman Leonard Crosbie also said he had started organising a charity concert. He said: “We should be more proactive in supporting charities. I have been fortunate enough to get the support of Christ’s Hospital School to put together a school band concert for charity. I have contacted the majority of school in Horsham and they are very much in favour of this taking pace. I will pursue that as a councillor in support of Cllr Circus.”