“If you don’t believe in God or if you don’t believe in a Supreme Being, I honestly don’t know how you can go anywhere in life.”
(Breakfast evangelism narrow-minded SP February 18, 2004)
“This is called the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast, but it’s not just for the mayor. It should be called a leaders’ breakfast,’ because it is for all the leaders in the community and their wives or significant others.”
(Mayor’s prayer event ‘elitist’: critic SP February 17, 2004)
The Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast in Saskatoon goes back some 25 years, but took a hiatus after 1995 before resuming amid controversy in 2004.
Three have been held since Don Atchison became mayor in October 2003:
– February 14, 2004 at Centennial Auditorium
– March 12, 2005 at Centennial Auditorium
– March 25, 2006 at TCU Place (formerly Centennial Auditorium)
The first two were sponsored by Leadership Ministries, which is a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ, Canada. Its mission as stated on its website reads:
“Our purpose is to glorify God by developing a movement of evangelism and discipleship through the leadership community of Canada, thus making a maximum contribution toward the fulfillment of the Great Commission, in Canada and around the world.”
Wikipedia.org provides this definition for the Great Commission:
‘The Great Commission is to evangelical Christians the basis for their worldview and activities arising from it. It is also more generally the primary basis for Christian missionary activity in general. It is given most explicitly in Mark 16:15-16: "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel unto every person. He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved; he that believeth not shall be damned. ...’
Leadership Ministries’ focus is ‘on reaching leaders (men and women of influence) who will in turn help to saturate their city/region/province/nation and the world with the Gospel.’
‘They take on larger projects to reach out, to build and to send others into the harvest field. From leadership dinners to industry specific outreaches to even developing their own international projects, these leaders begin to change their communities through spirit-filled leadership.’
‘The ultimate goal of our efforts is to play a part in seeing our and other nations transformed.’
‘Nations are run by leaders. If we can impact those leaders with the life-changing message of Christ they will help change nations,’ Leadership Ministries says on its website.
The third prayer breakfast was sponsored and hosted by the Christian Community at Large, a name that does not appear to be registered in Saskatchewan. An advertisement for the event said more information was available by calling 221-7784. A Google search for this phone number returned a real estate website called powerlisting.ca where the name Don Funk was provided as a contact person for a piece of property in Arbor Creek. Funk was an organizer of the first two prayer breakfasts and is a former director of the political lobby group LEAD Saskatoon Futures Inc. It is believed that Funk is a friend and supporter of Don Atchison.
The StarPhoenix has published several articles on the breakfast since 2004 some of which appear below.
Mayor’s breakfast returns
January 8, 2004
A longstanding tradition, interrupted for a few years, will resume at the mayor’s prayer breakfast on Valentine’s Day.
The focus of the event is to pray for Mayor Don Atchison and all leaders in the city and province, said Don Funk, one of the organizers.
“One of the objectives is to show support of Don but also all of the top influencers in the city,” Funk said.
The breakfast is open to people of all faiths, who will have a chance to speak with Atchison informally, he said.
“I think it’s very important to have it,” Atchison said. “Most other major centres have a mayor’s prayer breakfast. I’m quite looking forward to this.
“I think people need to believe in something.”
Atchison said he’s a Christian, of a Lutheran background.
Government and opposition MLAs, school trustees and University of Saskatchewan top officials will also be invited.
Saskatchewan Roughriders coach Danny Barrett will be the keynote speaker.
Funk said the 23-year tradition halted in 2000, due to Maddin’s coolness to the event. Maddin could not be reached for comment.
Tickets cost $25 and are available from the Centennial box office and online at www.ticketmaster.ca.
©The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2004
Mayor’s prayer event ‘elitist’: critic
February 17, 2004
The Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast should be abolished because of its “elitist and exclusive” nature, says a University of Regina professor of social work.
“To see that picture of the mayor this morning (in The StarPhoenix) bowing his head and praying, it just makes my blood boil,” said Ailsa Watkinson, a professor with the faculty of social work at the U of R’s community education centre in Saskatoon.
“It’s mixing religion and public service and I don’t believe we should be going there, at all,” she said, noting that, even if a person was Christian and wanted to attend, a ticket cost $25.
Religious instruction is the job of the family and the church they attend, not a public institution, she insists.
“To see the leaders of our city supporting the idea of some sort of religious faith sends an enormous message that they are part of this exclusive group.”
Watkinson was often quoted in the late 1990s as Saskatoon’s public school board wrestled with the Lord’s Prayer being recited in school. She urged the board to remove it on the grounds that it discriminates against other religious faiths by taking precedence in a ‘public’ education system.
The issue went to court, with a group of parents charging it violated the Human Rights Code because of its discriminative quality. The courts agreed and the board banished the prayer.
The same argument applies to city council, Watkinson said in an interview Monday.
Although the prayer breakfast is not a formal civic event, it gives that impression by using the mayor’s title and having councillors attend.
The breakfast this past weekend, which attracted some 800 people, was put on by Leadership Ministries and Campus Crusade for Christ. Both organizations are Christian-based with a remit to “spread the Christian word to people through community leaders.”
“It was advertised with the usual line as being open to all religious faiths but you can bet the majority, if not all, were Christians,” Watkinson said. “I’d be interested to know how many other religions were in attendance.”
She believes some values of Christian-based religions give a skewed view of the world. For example, that the man in a family is the authority and the woman a follower.
She noted mayor Atchison seems to think so, too. He was quoted in The StarPhoenix as saying: “This is called the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast, but it’s not just for the mayor. It should be called a leaders’ breakfast,’ because it is for all the leaders in the community and their wives or significant others.”
“Here we have the mayor stating that his views are those of the deep-seated patriarchal views of religion,” Watkinson said, adding she is not opposed to religion or spirituality “but it is that public display by our leaders that is intimidating to those who do not share that view.”
Don Funk, chair of this year’s organizing committee, said the event has been happening for 23 years without such opposition and will continue next year.
“I don’t forsee this ending,” added Atchison, who was honoured to be a part of it.
Both men noted there are several similar events across North America. Famed evangelist Bill Graham has attended the inaugurations for several U.S. presidents.
“That doesn’t justify it one bit,” said Atkinson. “Can somebody prove that by doing this, Thou shalt be a better leader? It’s elitist and therefore, by that virtue, it’s exclusive.”
No one from Leadership Ministries nor Campus Crusade for Christ could be reached Monday.
After biting his lip for weeks, former mayor Jim Maddin is also speaking out about the breakfast, specifically his association with it – or lack of – while in office.
It has been implied he did not want to take part in the annual event so it hit a sudden end under his tenure. Not true, he said.
“I was never asked. I never had a discussion with anybody about it,” he said. “I’m getting tagged as the guy who killed the tradition and that’s very unfair.”
Records at City Hall indicate the last mayor to attend the breakfast was Henry Dayday in 1995.
“That was five years before I even got elected,” said Maddin, who beat Dayday for the mayor’s seat in 2000.
Though he does not belong to any Christian group, Maddin said he would have considered it.
“I may not have given a snap decision because I would have wanted to check first to see where the money raised goes. That’s important if you’re tying a public office to something like that,” he said.
“But to be quite candid, Don Funk is not a political ally of mine at all and I think that had a part in all of this. It goes back to the Dave Scott saga (when Maddin fired the former police chief, a friend of Funk’s). Don has very little use for me, if any at all. And yes, it has troubled me, some of the public comment by others implying that I killed this thing. I think the record should be set straight.”
Funk had told The StarPhoenix the event halted in 2000, due to Maddin’s coolness to the event. On Monday, Funk claimed he was misquoted.
He admits saying the event was attended by every mayor but Maddin (over two decades), but he was not insinuating Maddin quashed it. That perception was created by others, Funk suggested.
The event’s longtime planner had fallen ill when Maddin entered office and died two years ago. As such, the breakfast was sidelined until now, Funk said.
Any profit raised this year will go back into the coffers to host the breakfast next year, Funk said.
“It’ll probably be three weeks before we know where we are financially,” he said, noting there were several complimentary tickets among those in attendance so the revenues aren’t as simple as 800 multiplied by $25.
As well, there are advertising costs and other associated expenses. The money does not go toward the Christian groups that hosted it, he said.
©The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2004
Breakfast evangelism narrow-minded
February 18, 2004
God is indelibly stamped in our Constitution.
Before we ever get to talking about what it means to be Canadian and what our individual and collective rights should be, the Constitution – the founding document that establishes this to be the country we all agree it should be – states that we “recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law.”
And God is a permanent fixture in our national anthem. It is in this song, which is played in city council before every meeting, that we exhort God to “keep our land glorious and free.”
The notion of a higher power has often filtered into our day-to-day governance, not the least of which is at events where leaders preside over announcements at Wanuskewin Park or the White Buffalo Lodge on 20th Street, where sweetgrass is burned as guidance is sought.
And no one would question the right of having our leaders publicly bowing their heads in prayer. This week newspapers carried photos of a pious-looking Prime Minister Paul Martin – head bowed in prayer as he attended the funeral of Claude Ryan, a former Quebec Liberal leader.
Christian roots run deep in Saskatchewan. For example, Tommy Douglas, Saskatchewan’s most famous premier, was a minister before he became a politician – as was Premier Lorne Calvert, the man now in office.
There should be little doubt Calvert’s religious beliefs aren’t forgotten when he deals with matters of state but, to his credit, he has made it clear on a number of occasions a distinction must be made between his personal religious views and the responsibility he is charged with through his elected office.
It’s one thing to hold Christian views – even strong Christian views as any minister must – and quite another to use one’s office to propagate the faith. This is something one expects from fundamentalist regimes, not in liberal democracies such as Canada.
And it’s hard to imaging the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast, which took place last weekend, as anything but an evangelical effort. It attracted 800 people – including all 10 city councillors, police Chief Russell Sabo and even Saskatchewan Party Leader Elwin Hermanson along with members of his caucus – all of whom came to hear prayers for and by Mayor Don Atchison and other leaders.
The program didn’t include one prayer from another major religious group and, although it did have an invocation of prayer done in a First Nation language, it – like all the others – was a Christian prayer.
One can take the organizers at their word that the event wasn’t intended to be exclusionary but that is exactly what happened.
Given the structure of the breakfast, how could it be anything but? It was sponsored by Leadership Ministries and Campus Crusade for Christ and designed for a Christian audience. No one who was there should be surprised to learn that their neighbours, who may have a different set of beliefs, would feel excluded.
The proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating and the fact that there were no prayers from Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist or other non-Christian groups, should have told the mayor and councillors that was something wrong with this picture.
And they shouldn’t be surprised that it didn’t take long for the injured to find a voice – the loudest so far being that of Ailsa Watkinson, the social work professor who told The StarPhoenix a photo of Atchison at the breakfast made her blood boil. Watkinson is the daughter of a United Church preacher but this hasn’t stopped her from recognizing the danger when the separation between government and church is weakened.
She was vocal in the battle to have the Lord’s Prayer taken out of public schools – a position that was upheld by the courts and is recognized to represent fundamental Canadian values. She now wants an end to an organized breakfast meant to use the mayor’s office to promote religion.
This battle to separate church and state has been going on for more than two centuries yet there seems to be a push, of late, to turn back the clock. Some American jurisdictions have pushed to have school boards ignore the vast amounts of scientific evidence that have been amassed to demonstrate how the universe, the solar system and Earth all came into being and how life developed on this planet, in favour of a literal view of the Bible.
And the fight sometimes gets ugly. Earlier this month, the pilot on a passenger jet crossing the United States told his Christian passengers to raise their hands – then told them they were right and the others on the aircraft should be made to find the “truth.”
Although he used different words, Atchison very nearly did the same thing Saturday morning.
“If you don’t believe in God or if you don’t believe in a Supreme Being, I honestly don’t know how you can go anywhere in life,” Atchison told the crowd at the Centennial Auditorium, presumably referring to those who weren’t there.
In his campaign to become mayor, Atchison made it clear there was no place in Saskatoon for those who didn’t respect law and order. Given his officially held view (it was the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast, not Atchison’s), one wonders how welcome are those who don’t’ hold his beliefs.
And given the long list of well educated, productive residents of this city who don’t hold the mayor’s beliefs, one wonders how much weaker Saskatoon would be if there wasn’t a fight to assure their inclusion.
Atchison may be responsible to a higher authority or Supreme Being but the mayor is also responsible to a higher authority – all of the people of Saskatoon.
©The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2004
Many leaders have no wives, Mayor Atch
February 18, 2004
I can think of several leaders in this community who do not have wives. Shall I list them for you, Mayor Atchison?
I’d love to, but there are too many. Still, a good start might be to peer around the city council table, where we have Tiffany Paulsen, Bev Dubois, Donna Birkmaier, and Elaine Hnatyshyn. All wife-free.
In the office, we have city solicitor Theresa Dust, without whom city council seems unable to make a move; and city clerk Janice Mann, ditto.
Then there is Shelley Brown (no wife), whose resume is far too long to list here, but it’s worth noting she is the president of the Saskatoon Club, at one time the last bastion of male networking.
Or so I thought. Now, it’s the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast, apparently, an event for the city’s leaders and their wives.
I digress. Among other leaders without wives I could list a great many whom you would recognize, and maybe another several dozen whom you wouldn’t, like the people who work at the Community Service Village or the United Way (or dozens of other charitable organizations) keeping this community glued together. You want leadership? Watch these people in action.
At least some of these people have spouses, husbands, or partners. Not all of them have wives, unless you want to go down some weird uncharted path and debate the usual definition of wife.
The mayor wasn’t using some bizarre updated use of the term, when he suggested that the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast was for city leaders and their wives or significant others. And I’m afraid he can’t wriggle out of this by suggesting “significant others” refers to “everybody else including husbands, partners, and spouses of every description.” He meant male leaders and their wives or girlfriends, or he would have said “wives, husbands, or significant others.”
I would also like to know what his definition of leader is.
Now, I know the mayor doesn’t always think before he speaks. We had that tie problem, which granted got Saskatoon some national coverage when he was labelled the country’s craziest mayor on Rick Mercer’s Monday Report. (Very few people without wives wear ties.) We had that Mendel Art Gallery problem, where he was at first unaware that the gallery needed city council to pitch in on a game plan for expansion, not just a study.
I’m aware that political correctness is taking a bit of a kicking these days, and that’s probably a good thing in most respects. But for the sake of sheer accuracy, Your Worship, please keep an eye on that little speech impediment.
©The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2004
All welcome at breakfast: Atchison
February 24, 2005
The Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast is back, this time serving up salvation without the side dish of controversy.
Last year, a university professor called the event “elitist and exclusive” and said it should be abolished. There’s been no public opposition so far to the event, scheduled for March 12. Those involved were quick to offer pre-emptive strikes on Wednesday for any possible criticism that may arise.
“It’s called the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast, not Christ’s Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast. This is not just for Christians, this is for everyone,” said Mayor Don Atchison. “It’s for all religions to participate in. It’s inclusive, not exclusive.
“I think that the people who are commenting about not having it should attend to see what it’s all about.”
He said last year’s event, which attracted 800 people, was an emotional experience.
“You have all of these people together, praying for the good of the community. Afterwards people came up to me and said, ‘Please have it again.’”
“One message that I want to get out loud and clear: This is for all faiths of life,” said organizer Don Funk. “Every denomination we want there. We have talked to people who can connect with the Chinese community, the Spanish community, the Filipino community, First Nations community, etcetera, etcetera.
“Whatever faith, we’re open to you being part of this.”
Last year, Prof. Ailsa Watkinson condemned the event for putting Christianity ahead of other faiths and denounced Atchison for giving the impression he favoured Christians.
She said it mixed religion and public service, and said, “I don’t believe we should be going there, at all.”
A professor with the faculty of social work at the University of Regina’s community education centre in Saskatoon, Watkinson is not opposed to religion or spirituality, but such a public display by our leaders “is intimidating to those who do not share that view,” she has said.
Atchison said he attends various faith-based events in the city. It just so happens this particular event is hosted by Leadership Ministries, a Christian-based group.
“If it had been another faith-based group that came forward and asked me to do this, I would have been fine with that, too,” he said, adding, “These types of gatherings started back in 1953 with President (Dwight D.) Eisenhower, who believed praying was good for everyone.”
The Saskatoon event goes back 24 years, but took a hiatus after 1995 before resuming in 2004.
The “vison” of the breakfast, as stated in the 2005 brochure, is to “show support for all those of influence in our city through prayer.” It also lists as a purpose “to acknowledge God in our city” and refers to the Book of Timothy in the New Testament, “where we are told to pray for people in authority.”
The theme of this year’s breakfast, announced at a press conference Wednesday, is peace and justice. Prayers will be given for “all those in the justice and peacekeeping service of our city,” according to the event brochure.
The guest speaker is Ivan Brown, a superintendent with the Jamaican police service. He lost both arms in a machete attack early in his 30-year career but has risen to become one of the country’s top officers through his community service role. His story is described as a “very powerful Christian testimony” in the prayer breakfast brochure.
The event will be held at the Centennial Auditorium. Tickets are $25 each or $200 for a table of eight. The event is usually a break-even function but any profit that is raised goes into expenses for the next year.
©The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2005
No prayer for mayor: group
Atchison’s participation in annual prayer breakfast inappropriate, CORP says
February 25, 2005
A group calling itself the Coalition Opposed to Religious Politics (CORP) suspects a letter it wrote condemning the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast was conveniently misplaced by city officials so it wasn’t part of the public council package at this week’s meeting.
Ailsa Watkinson, a spokesperson for CORP, which consists of about a dozen members, questions whether the letter was intentionally lost so as not to cast a shadow on a press conference held two days later to formally announce the event.
“I’m not sure if it was planned but I do find it strange,” she said.
The letter was hand-delivered to Mayor Don Atchison’s office at about 4 p.m. on Feb. 16. The deadline to have it included in the council agenda is 5 p.m. A spokesperson at the city clerk’s office, which puts together the agenda, said the letter didn’t reach the office until the following day.
An administrator in the mayor’s office blamed it on an over-loaded in-basket and the fact CORP did not clearly articulate it was for the council agenda. It will be part of the next council meeting, March 7.
In the letter, CORP expresses “dismay” over the fact that Atchison is once again taking part in the event put on by Leadership Ministries, a group whose directive is to “advance the Christian world view.”
“We recognize the difficulty in raising this issue. At first glance a Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast sounds innocent enough. In fact, it can be seen as a morally superior undertaking and thus beyond reproach,” the letter reads. “Clearly we disagree as it subverts the principal of inclusiveness and equality. Using the power and prestige of the mayor’s office to support one religion promotes, by stealth, Christianity. This, we believe, is not responsible and inclusive governance.
On Wednesday, Atchison and prayer breakfast organizer Don Funk defended the event. They insist it is all-inclusive – that people of all faiths have been invited – and that the underlying purpose is to show support, through prayer, for those who have influence in the city.
“They’re not praying for the mayor, they’re praying for the good of the community,” Atchison said. “I think that the people who are commenting about not having it should attend to see what it’s all about.”
Atchison noted he attends other faith-based events in the city but it just so happens this particular one his hosted by Leadership Ministries. Had another faith put it on, he would have attended anyway.
But Watkinson, a professor with the faculty of social work at the University of Regina’s community education centre in Saskatoon, said Leadership Ministries in evangelical and therefore, “dedicated to converting all to Christianity.”
That’s why organizers want people of other faiths to attend – to win them over, she said.
“They’re not just trying to spread the word (of Christ) but there is the element of conversion, here. If you read some of their things, they talk about having converted Buddhists to Christianity. That is especially worrisome for us,” said Watkinson, who describes herself as a Christian but says others in CORP are atheist.
Despite the range of viewpoints, what they all have in common is an opposition to using a publicly funded civic office to promote a specific form of Christianity, she said.
“That just doesn’t wash in this pluralistic society,” Watkinson said.
“We urge you to decline from taking part in any further Mayor’s Prayer Breakfasts and use your office to promote inclusiveness and well-being among all members of our community,” the CORP letter urges Atchison.
The group also requests a financial accounting of any public expenses accrued by the mayor or councillors who attended the 2004 event, including travel costs, parking and stipends.
©The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2005
Breakfast to attract large crowd
Thursday, March 16, 2006
With 10 days left to sell 46 tickets, the third annual Mayor's Prayer Breakfast looks to be a sellout.
This year's guest speaker is Norm Miller, chair of Interstate Batteries and corporate sponsor of Joe Gibbs' NASCAR racing team. The partnership netted a win at the Daytona 500 in 1992 and Winston Cup championships in 1993 and in 2000. Interstate Battery has also seen great success under Miller's tutelage, becoming the largest battery distributor in North America.
"This time we've engaged the racing community to be part of it because obviously if you have someone as big as NASCAR . . . it's great interest," said Don Funk, co-chair of the organizing committee. "When you bring in good solid people, you'll attract people."
He attributes the quality of past speakers for creating the high profile the event receives from year to year. So far, 1,170 tickets have been sold, and to accommodate additional guests, tickets for the overflow room are available at a reduced rate. Funk said the event has attracted large to small corporations, policing organizations and politicians from across the province.
The breakfast will be held at TCU Place on Saturday, March 25, from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., and is sponsored by the local Christian community.
©The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2006
1,250 people attend prayer breakfast
Monday, March 27, 2006
The third annual Mayor's Prayer Breakfast packed the house at TCU Place on Saturday.
Roughly 1,250 people, nearly 400 more than last year, attended the Christian community-supported event to eat some eggs and sausage and share in some spiritual healing.
Reinstated after a five-year absence, the breakfast has generated controversy as some feel it's an opportunity for Mayor Don Atchison's office to use its power and prestige to support the Christian religion.
The breakfast is about "bringing the whole community together. . . . It doesn't matter what your background is, or your faith belief is," said co-chair Don Funk, who said he spoke with a husband and wife of the Hindu faith who were in attendance and they were "enjoying it."
Funk attributes the event's growing success to an element common to all people. "We all need some hope in our lives," he said.
As its name indicates, the morning wasn't just about filling one's plate. There were prayers said for the mayor and city, the police, RCMP and EMS workers. They ranged in style and length from Premier Lorne Calvert's simple prairie prayer to Don Pagoda's, which was filled with red, green and checkered-flag analogies for the racing community.
Incorporating racing, said Funk, was a natural fit with guest speaker Norman Miller, who sponsors a NASCAR racing team.
Miller, chair of the Interstate Battery System of America, told of his battle with alcohol addiction and how turning to the Bible helped him to find meaning in his life.
Atchison spoke little of religion, but boosted the capital and social accomplishments Saskatoon has seen in recent years and should see in the future.
Like Funk, Atchison says that "all the different groups that are living here in our community -- people coming from all over the world, homogenizing, coming together as one" -- is what it's all about.
Ken Schultz attended the breakfast for the second year in a row, with fellow members of Faith Lutheran church. He says this year's event was greater in size but equal in its message. "I don't believe there was politics here today," he said, just people gathered in the name of Christ.
First-time attendee Taras Bayda says the breakfast was moving and the speakers fabulous, particularly Miller.
But, added Bayda, he felt politics made an appearance as well. Atchison, who was "better than I've ever heard him," was covering just about everything in his speech to get ready for the next election, he said.
©The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2006