Mayoral candidate wants more inclusive invocations

Dan Coursey

Molly Coston

Three years after the Washougal City Council approved a resolution that provides for invocations just prior to council meetings, one of the mayoral candidates wants the time of inspiration to appeal to a larger population.

Molly Coston said during the Aug. 14 Washougal City Council meeting that she “took a bit of offense” with the mention of Jesus during the invocation by Gorman Gray.

During the invocation, Gray, of Washougal, asked God “to control our thoughts, our decisions, our proposals, and control the attitudes in our hearts and our attitudes towards each other.”

Gray asked for there to be a spirit of cooperation and willingness to hear each other.

He concluded the invocation, saying: “You are the living God. We ask for your presence, and we do this in the name of Jesus.”

In September 2014, the Washougal City Council approved a resolution that provides for invocations just prior to council meetings. The invocations — which could include prayers, poems, quotes or inspirational phrases — occur before the call to order. The list of procedures states that no city employee, elected city official or anyone else in attendance is required to participate in or stand during an invocation. Any person may volunteer to provide an invocation, which should not exceed 60 seconds.

“I believe in invocations,” Coston said, adding that although she is a Christian, she believes the city council should be more inclusive of other faiths in its invocations. “It’s a delicate balance of respecting the spiritual beliefs of all citizens, and allowing at least a minute of inspiration, prayer or silence to guide our choices during the meeting.”

After the Aug. 14 council meeting, Coston said she would like to review what the Vancouver City Council is doing.

Coston served on the Washougal City Council from 2005 through 2011.

Her opponent in the Nov. 7 General Election mayoral race is Dan Coursey, who has served on the City Council since January 2016.

“People have different world views, even here in Washougal, and those differences in world view may be reflected in their general political choices and affiliations,” Coursey said after the Aug. 14 meeting.

He added that he will not be part of any movement to prohibit the name of Jesus from an invocation.

“It could be difficult for people, like me, of devout Christian faith, to honestly pray without respecting that name specifically,” Coursey said. “Our rules are set up so that anyone of any faith, or even non-faith, can do the invocation in their own words. It’s also a matter of free speech, First Amendment rights. I think we should be able to appreciate different points of view without getting upset about it — one of the great problems in our nation these days.”

Marilyn Tyrrell, a Unitarian Universalist, of Washougal, has given an invocation before a Washougal City Council meeting, and said she had her minister help her write it.

“I do not believe that one who claims to be a Christian would be unaware of the Bible’s directive toward privacy — praying in private, doing good works privately, etcetera,” Tyrrell said. “If the council is not right-minded, public prayer is too late. If you want Christian teaching, go to church. Being a Christian is hard work. Get some lessons, and do it in private.”

Councilors are expected to have additional discussions about invocations during a future workshop.

People who want to give invocations before Washougal City Council meetings should contact Rose Jewell, executive assistant to the mayor and city administrator, at 360-835-8501 or email Rose.Jewell@cityofwashougal.us to be placed on the calendar.