Minnesota Legislature’s Daily Prayer          

Rule 1.01 of the Minnesota House of Representatives for the Convening of the House provides, “The call to order is followed by a prayer by the Chaplain or time for a brief meditation, then by the pledge of allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and then by a call of the roll of members.” (Emphasis added.)[1]

Journalist Jennifer Brooks tells us, “In the middle of a pandemic, when the crowds at the State Capitol are at a bare minimum, it falls to the lawmakers themselves to open each session with a few good words in these bad times.”[2]

In early April 2020, Representative Pat Garofalo (Rep.) was the substitute chaplain who said the prayer should be “a time for some patience, for unity and most importantly for hope” and that he wanted it to be “a meaningful message that the people of Minnesota could respect, but would have particular relevance to House staff and House members.” Therefore, he chose the following passage from the New Testament of the Bible (1 Peter 3: 13-17):

  • “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?  But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear their threat, do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.”

On April 28, 2020, the opening prayer was provided by House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (DFL), who used what he said was his favorite prayer, the Lutheran Prayer of Good Courage, because it “gives us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us.” Here is that prayer:

  • “Lord God,
    you have called your servants
    to ventures of which we cannot see the ending,
    by paths as yet untrodden,
    through perils unknown.
    Give us faith to go out with good courage,
    not knowing where we go,
    but only that your hand is leading us
    and your love supporting us;
    through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This same prayer was given on May 16, 2010, the final day of that session, by the House Chaplain, Rev. Dennis J. Johnson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), who placed it in a broader context as follows:[3]

  • “In my experience, all prayers seem to come down to two simple petitions”
  • Lord have mercy covers all the sins, disappointments, failures, mistakes, what we did not get done, and stubbornness or hardness of hearts or posturing that contribute to stalemates. Yes, Lord, have mercy. Thanks be to God for that mercy which brings second chances and new beginnings.” (Emphasis added.)
  • Thanks be to God is a petition that covers all that went right during this session, that acknowledges successes and the hope we have in what seems like setbacks, hope for seeds that were planted, ideas that may yet come to fruition, laws that may yet be improved, the hope for tomorrow. Thanks be to God for partnerships forged, transcendent moments when the good of the people triumphs over partisanship. Thanks be to God for all who are willing to put in the long hours, endure the critics and do the heavy lifting , and to participate in this messy but necessary and godly process of democracy. Yes, thanks be to God.” (Emphasis added.)
  • Now, Lord God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give use faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us.” (Emphasis added.)

This prayer was published in The Lutheran Book of Worship, which was produced by the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship, a collaboration of the Lutheran Church in America, the American Lutheran Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Canada that was started by the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, which left the collaboration just before publication of this book.[4]

Rev. Johnson reports that this prayer previously was written by Eric Milner-White, an English Anglican priest (1884-1963), who was Dean of Chapel at King’s College, Cambridge University (1918-1941) and the creator of its now world famous “A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols.”[5]

Rev. Johnson was the House Chaplain, 2009-10, and his book, cited below, provides a history of that chaplaincy, including a list of the chaplains, 1849-1857 (Territorial Sessions) and 1857-2011 (State Sessions) along with an overview of issues of church and state, personal reflections on the roles and a compilation of prayers he (and guest chaplains) had offered in 2009-10. He spent a combined 21 years in parish ministry in Dallas, Texas and St. Peter, Minnesota. He also served as a vice president of Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, and one year as its interim president (2002-2003). After his retirement, he was an associate to the bishop of the Minneapolis Area Synod of the ELCA, which he joined on January 1, 1988, when the Lutheran Church in America joined the American Lutheran Church and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches to create the ELCA and more recently (2015-17) was Interim Senior Pastor at Minneapolis’ Mount Olivet Lutheran Church.   I am proud to say he is a friend of mine. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evangelical_Lutheran_Church_in_America

An earlier House Chaplain (1993-94) was Rev. Dr. Donald M. Meisel, then Senior Pastor at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church, which is this blogger’s church.

Reflection

The Prayer of Good Courage is instructive to us all. We all are God’s servants, and we all ”are called to ventures” even though  “we cannot see the ending “ and even though they lead us  on “paths as yet untrodden” and even though they lead us “through perils unknown.”  Too often we forget these basic truths when we embark on new ventures.

Therefore, we also should not forget that we need to embark on these new ventures “with good courage” and with faith that God’s “hand is leading us” and “God’s love [is] supporting us.” This “good courage” includes  humility to recognize that we may not have correctly analyzed the situation. We need to listen to others and try to learn from their opinions. We need to be able to admit that we were wrong.

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[1] Rule 1.01 of the Temporary Rules of the [Minnesota] House of Representatives] 2019-2020. Surprisingly the Minnesota Senate apparently does not have a similar rule. (Temporary Rules of the [Minnesota] Senate, 91st Legislature (2019-2020). A special comment is invited for identification of the Minnesota Senate’s rule or practice for a chaplain.

[2] Brooks, In a Minnesota Legislature on lockdown, State Capitol gets used to a new normal, StarTribune (May 1, 2020).

[3] Johnson, Chaplain of the House: A Ministry of Prayer and Presence in the Minnesota House of Representatives at 78-79 (Hennepin House 2011).

[4] The Lutheran Book of Worship at 153 (1978); Lutheran Book of Worship, Wikipedia.

[5] Milner-White, O God you have called your servants, DAILY PRAYER edited by Eric Milner-White & G. W. Briggs (1941).

U.S. State Department’s Report on Moroccan Religious Freedom in 2016

On August 10, 2016, the U.S. Department of State released its latest annual report on religious freedom in every country in the world for 2015. Here are the key points of what it said about Morocco.[1]

The Report on Morocco

Morocco with its population of 33.3 million people (July 2015), estimates that 99% are Sunni Muslim and 1%, Shia Muslims, Christians, Jews and Bahais.

“The constitution declares the country to be a sovereign Muslim state and Islam to be the religion of the state. The constitution guarantees freedom of thought, expression, and assembly, and says the state guarantees the free exercise of beliefs to everyone.”

“The law grants recognition to Sunni Maliki-Ashari Muslims and Jews as native populations free to practice their religion without any specific requirements to register with the government. The law requires [all other] religious groups not recognized as native, which includes non-Maliki-Ashari Muslims (i.e., Shia) and Christians, among others, to register before they are able to undertake financial transactions or conduct other business as private associations and legal entities.”

“Registered churches and associations include the Roman Catholic, Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, French Protestant, and Anglican Churches, whose existence as foreign resident Churches predates the country’s independence in 1956 and which operate within the officially registered Council of Christian Churches of Morocco (CECM).”

“The constitution states the king is the protector of Islam and the guarantor of freedom of worship. It prohibits political parties, parliamentarians, and constitutional amendments from infringing upon Islam. The criminal code prohibits the use of ‘enticements’ by non-Muslims to try to convert Muslims to another religion. The minister of justice reaffirmed the freedom to change religions as long as no coercion was involved, but said Christian evangelism remained prohibited because missionaries had offered material inducements to the poor to convert them.”

“The government reportedly detained and questioned Moroccan Christians about their beliefs and contacts with other Moroccan Christians, including incidents in Rabat and Fes. The government also continued to deny registration to local Christian, Shia, and Bahai groups. Representatives of minority religious groups said fears of government surveillance led adherents of the Christian, Bahai, and Shia faiths to refrain from public worship and instead to meet discreetly in members’ homes. The government allowed foreign Christian communities to attend worship services in approved locations. The Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs (MEIA) continued to control the content of sermons in mosques, Islamic religious education, and the dissemination of Islamic religious material by the broadcast media. The government continued to restrict the distribution of non-Islamic religious materials, as well as Islamic materials it deemed inconsistent with the Maliki-Ashari school of Sunni Islam. The government arrested several individuals for eating in public during Ramadan.”

“Although Jews said they continued to live and worship in safety, participants in a pro-Palestinian rally in Casablanca in October staged a mock execution of individuals dressed as Hasidic Jews. Christians reported pressure to convert from non-Christian family and friends. Two Muslim actors received death threats for appearing in a U.S.-made movie about the life of Jesus. Members of the Shia community said in some areas they were able to practice their faith openly, but most members of the community practiced discreetly. Bahais reportedly practiced their faith discreetly and avoided disclosing their religious affiliation.”

“The U.S. government promoted religious tolerance in its bilateral strategic dialogue [with the Moroccan government]. The Ambassador, embassy and consulate general officers, and visiting U.S. government officials met with senior government officials, including the minister of endowments and Islamic affairs, to discuss tolerance of minority religions. The Ambassador and embassy officers also met with Muslim religious scholars, leaders of the Jewish community, prominent Christian visitors, Christian foreign residents, leaders of registered and unregistered Christian groups, and other local religious groups to promote religious dialogue.”

Conclusion

With Sunni Muslim as the state religion under Morocco’s constitution and 99% of the population’s being Sunni Muslims, it would appear to this non-Moroccan Christian outsider that it would be easy and non-threatening for the Moroccan government to allow virtually unfettered religious freedom to all others (Shia Muslims, Christians, Jews and Bahias). However, Morocco does not do so. Therefore, I believe the U.S. government, while observing all diplomatic niceties, should endeavor to persuade the Moroccan government to provide more religious freedom to the other religious groups.

Any U.S. efforts at attempting to persuade Morocco should refer to Morocco’s ratification or accession in 1979 to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which provides the following in Article 18: “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.”

  1. “No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice.”
  2. “Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.”
  3. “The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.”[2]

That U.S. effort should also mention that under the ICCPR, Morocco as a state party has submitted periodical reports regarding its implementation of the treaty to the U.N. Human Rights Committee, which after review and consultation with the party issues its Concluding Observations on that implementation. The last such Concluding Observations by this Committee, which were issued on December 1, 2016, said the following about freedom of religion in Morocco:

  • “39. The Committee is concerned by reports that restrictions are placed on the practice of religions other than the official religion. It is also concerned about provisions in the Criminal Code that criminalize actions contrary to the Muslim religion and the introduction of new offences to the draft Criminal Code that further extend the limits imposed on freedom of religion and expression (arts. 18 and 19).”
  • “40. The State party should eliminate any legislative provision or discriminatory practice that is in violation of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and ensure that the draft revised Criminal Code now under discussion is fully in accordance with article 18 of the Covenant.”

Finally this outsider also suggests that discussions with the Moroccan government on this subject should refer to the January 2016 Declaration of Marrakesh about religious minorities in Muslim majority countries that was discussed in a prior post.

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[1] U.S. State Dep’t, International Religious Freedom Report for 2015: Morocco (Aug. 2016). The annual reports on the same subject by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom do not comment on every country in the world and Morocco is one such country that is not covered. (U.S. Com’n Int’l Religious Freedom, Annual Report (April 2017) (Morocco is not on list of countries covered by report, pp. iii-iv).

[2] The ICCPR and other international instruments regarding religious freedom were briefly reviewed in International Law Regarding Freedom of Religion, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 1, 2012).

Inspiration from Charles Wesley

Westminster Presbyterian Church
Westminster Presbyterian Church

Especially moving at this morning’s worship service at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church were these words of Charles Wesley in the anthem, “Forth in Thy Name, O Lord, I Go:”

  • “Forth in thy name, O Lord, I go, my daily labor to pursue; thee, only thee, resolved to know in all I think or speak or do.
  • The task thy wisdom hath assigned, O let me cheerfully fulfill; in all my works thy presence find and prove thy good and perfect will.
  • Preserve me from my calling’s snare and hide my simple heart above the thorns of choking care, the gilded baits of worldly love.
  • Thee may I set at my right hand whose eyes my inmost substance see, and labor on at thy command and offer all my works to thee.
  • Give me to bear thy easy yoke, and every moment watch and pray, and still to things eternal look,
  • And hasten to thy glorious day; for thee delightfully employ whate’er thy bounteous grace hath given.
  • And run my course with even joy, and closely walk with thee to heaven.”
Rev. Charles Wesley
Rev. Charles Wesley

Charles Wesley (1707-1788) was an English Anglican clergyman and a leader of its Methodism movement that subsequently became the independent Methodist Church. He wrote many hymns for the church. He was the son of Samuel Wesley, an Anglican clergyman and poet, and the younger brother of John Wesley, also an Anglican clergyman and a co-leader of the Methodism movement.

Both Wesley brothers were graduates of Oxford University’s Christ Church College, where in the early 1960’s I attended lectures and saw their portraits in the College’s beautiful dining hall.

Many years later I  was walking near St. Paul’s Cathedral in the City of London and saw the Aldersgate Flame sculpture marking the spot where John Wesley on May 24, 1738, “felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

I should also mention a more direct and personal connection with Methodism. While in high school in the small Iowa town of Perry, I was a member of the local Methodist Church and active in its youth choir and MYF (Methodist Youth Fellowship). I fondly recall our church being visited by five college students on a Youth Caravan to bolster our MYF and the caring and reserved pastoring by Rev. Arlie Krussell.

Howard Helvey
Howard Helvey

The music for the anthem was a Scottish melody arranged by Howard Helvey. Born in 1968, he is a composer, arranger and pianist and also serves as the organist and choirmaster of Calvery Episcopal Church of Cincinnati, Ohio.