Thursday, March 15, 2007

Mayor Don Atchison should not allow his title to be used at annual prayer breakfast

“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.”
– Mayor Don Atchison
(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 Don Atchison
(Mayor’s prayer event ‘elitist’: critic SP February 17, 2004)
In another step closer to American style evangelical conservatism Saskatoon's Mayor's Prayer Breakfast has embraced the military and draped itself in patriotism. This year's event included a message to Canadian soldier's in Afghanistan from Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

As leader of the former Canadian Alliance Party Harper and his fellow conservatives, like current Saskatoon MP Carol Skelton, supported the illegal U.S.-led invasion and overthrow of Iraq. Their March/April 2003 votes in the House of Commons are on record as showing that.

Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall (a conservative) reportedly received a bigger round of applause than Saskatchewan Premier Lorne Calvert (not a conservative). No surprise there.

Mayor Don Atchison continues to allow the use of his title to advertise the event which may give the impression that the function is approved by the City of Saskatoon. If you don't happen to be a Christian or don't agree with it for some other reason -- too bad.

Leadership Ministries (now known as LeaderImpact group) sponsored the prayer breakfast in 2004 & 2005. It is a division of Campus Crusade for Christ, Canada. Its mission reads:

To create an organization focused on reaching Marketplace Leaders for Christ in Canada and internationally, and empowering them to use high leverage processes to create self-propagating ‘movements’ of evangelism and discipleship.”

Among the goals of LeaderImpact group are: “To facilitate reaching, in a meaningful way, 30,000 marketplace leaders in Canada by 2020,” and “To have a LeaderImpact group in all Canadian cities with a population of 100,000 or more by the year 2010.”

“We are committed to empowering Christian leaders so that they are able to effectively impact their circles of influence with the gospel message.”

“We believe that if you meaningfully impact a leader with the gospel they in turn will change their geographic or demographic community and this is how to eventually transform a nation,” the LeaderImpact group website says.

By "impact" they mean influence. By "transform" they mean convert.

The prayer breakfast is now sponsored by the "Saskatoon Christian community". One of its organizers is Don Funk, a friend of Atchison’s and a former director of the political lobby group LEAD Saskatoon Futures Inc.

Mayor Don Atchison should refrain from allowing his title to be used at any future prayer breakfast.

Prayer breakfast not path to unity

Ailsa M. Watkinson
Special to The StarPhoenix

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Following is the opinion of the writer, a citizen of Saskatoon.

I went to the Mayor's Prayer Breakfast and I'm exhausted. It was an overwhelmingly emotional event. I have been critical in the past of our civic government's support for showcasing Christianity, but I had not gone to experience the event for myself.

The mayor and organizers have described the event as being open to anyone, and make the point that it's multi-faith. My experience, though, made it very clear that it's not. It was a Christian revival meeting that unabashedly called on us all to join the team.

It was extraordinary. Front and centre was its focus on "coming to Christ," with the hope and a prayer that Jesus Christ would speak to all in attendance through those scheduled to speak. We were there to "celebrate God" and have the "son of God shine in Saskatoon."

We heard at least eight prayers. Those offering them prayed for our city of bridges that was being attacked by Satan. They prayed that we might protect our homes from the forces of evil and darkness. They prayed for our prime minister in the hope that he would be surrounded by God-fearing people, saying our nation deserves holy, God-fearing people.

We were told that Saskatoon was settled by the Temperance society on godly principles, implying that the history of this city began and should end there while ignoring the role of the original occupants of this land. The evangelical, frenetic message was supported by stirring solos (How Great Thou Art, You'll Never Walk Alone), draped in patriotism (a flag the size of a hockey rink, the RCMP in their red serge), fuelled by testosterone (hockey, the military, Don Cherry, a cast of white male presenters).

Then, like fingernails dragged across a chalkboard, the mood was abruptly changed with the reminder that so many of our young have died in service to our country. We were shown a video of Canadian soldiers in action, soldiers keeping watch, soldiers crying as they carried the caskets of dead comrades while a lovely emotive sound track told of the soldier's weariness with the criticism of our involvement in the war in Afghanistan.

In silence we watched the pictures and names of all the Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan. It was an emotional rollercoaster.

It must be understood that Don Atchison is more than a figurehead in all of this. In his capacity as the mayor, he is applying the stamp of approval on behalf of all Saskatoon citizens to a very public event that promotes evangelical Christianity.

The historical and current purpose of this event -- its origins are in the evangelical movement arising in the United States -- is to recruit others to the Christian faith. That is a far cry from working in harmony with others of different beliefs.

In addition, Atchison, as mayor of Saskatoon, actively recruits people by speaking at church services and other religious meetings, urging people to attend the prayer breakfast. By doing so, he vigorously promotes one religion over all others.

This is not his role. As he said in his address at the breakfast, we want a community that comes together and works together. He is not doing that; rather, he is building his own Team of Favourites -- Christian white males. As the morning unfolded, it was clear that supporting, loving wives also were welcome.

I realize that the prayer breakfast is a hugely popular event for many of the 2,200 who attended this year. But that is not the means by which to evaluate the public good. Christian prayer breakfasts will carry on, but I implore city councillors to stop the mayor from allowing his name and ours to be associated with this event. It is the antithesis of good citizenship, by its nature; it is divisive, exclusive and unconstructive.

©The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2007

Tributes paid to soldiers, RCMP at Mayor's Prayer Breakfast
Attendees nearly double from last year

Jeremy Warren
The StarPhoenix

Monday, March 12, 2007

The largest Mayor's Prayer Breakfast ever held in Saskatoon mixed faith, sports and politics during a morning of tributes to the Canadian Armed Forces and RCMP members.

All 2,300 tickets to the annual event, nearly double last year's total, were sold before Saturday morning's event at Praireland Park.

Prayers delivered by speakers and guests included a blessing for RCMP officers, those serving in the Canadian Armed Forces, "hockey culture," Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the home, church and state.

Saskatoon politicians were well represented at the breakfast. Alongside Mayor Don Atchison and city councillors, all four Saskatoon Conservative MPs were in attendance, with several Saskatoon MLAs representing the NDP and Saskatchewan Party. Federation of Saskatchewan First Nations Chief Lawrence Joseph was also in attendance.

"We're a city of bridges, but we're more than just structures, we're a community that works together (with) all religions and all faiths here today," Atchison told the crowd.

"Times are moving in Saskatoon and we can't leave anybody behind. Everyone needs to enjoy the benefits of our city."

Premier Lorne Calvert and Sask. Party Leader Brad Wall both spoke to commemorate the lives of Saskatchewan soldiers who died in Afghanistan.

Wall said he is praying for a successful mission in Afghanistan and for the soldiers to be protected by "the armour of god."

Keynote speaker Paul Henderson, best-known for scoring the winning goal for Team Canada in the 1972 Summit Series with the USSR, told the crowd about how he found God late in his hockey career.

As a hockey player, he was filled with an unknown anger and had lingering issues with his father, even while being successful and financially secure, he said.

"I thought spiritual people, especially Christians, were weak people. I didn't think I needed anything," he said.

Then, at the urging of a friend, he started attending church.

"When you become a Christian, you don't become perfect. It's not a wrinkle-free life," he said. "God changed me and he will change me until the day I die."

Organizers played a video tribute to Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan. As the music in the video stopped and pictures of the fallen soldiers flashed on screen, members of the audience dabbed their eyes with tissues to wipe away tears.

Four Saskatchewan soldiers have been killed in combat: Cpl. Shane Keating who grew up in Dalmeny; Cpl. David Braun from the Raymore area; and Cpl. Bryce Keller and Master Cpl. Jeffery Walsh, both from Regina.

"Jeff felt he could make a difference. Please support our Canadian Forces and RCMP members," said Walsh's father, Ben.

On each table were several copies of a federal government backgrounder on Canada's mission in Afghanistan.

There were also tributes to RCMP constables Robin Cameron and Marc Bourdages, who died about a week after they were both shot on July 7, 2006, near Spiritwood.

Personnel from CFB Dundurn and Canadian Tire presented 220 hockey sticks and 240 pucks to the Kinsmen Inner City Hockey League.

Sponsorship from individuals and corporate people provided free passes to all the Canadian Forces members and their families in attendance.

©The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2007

PM plans breakfast message

The StarPhoenix

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is taping a special tribute to Canada's Armed Forces that will be played at the Mayor's Prayer Breakfast on March 10.

Organizers of the prayer breakfast called a news conference on Tuesday to announce the addition of the prime minister's message. A tribute to Saskatchewan soldiers who have died in the Afghanistan mission had previously been announced as part of the program for this year's version of the annual breakfast.

Breakfast chair Don Funk says there will be a strong contingent at the breakfast from CFB Dundurn and HMCS Unicorn.

Funk says sales are going well, but organizers expect sales in the last week prior to March 10 to fill the Saskatoon Prairieland Hall E for the breakfast.

Tickets are available through Ticketmaster.

Team Canada 1972 hero Paul Henderson is the keynote speaker at the breakfast. He will be joined by two other former NHL stalwarts, Ryan Walter and Laurie Boschman.

©The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2007

[Note: The following article was on Page E12 in the “Religion” section of the Feb. 10, 2007, StarPhoenix]

Hockey the hook, prayer the theme of breakfast

Darlene Polachic
The StarPhoenix

Saturday, February 10, 2007

The organizing committee of the Saskatoon Mayor's Prayer Breakfast is hoping to score with its choice of "Hockey Morning In Canada" as the theme for this year's breakfast.

Don Funk, co-chair of the event with Les Mandtler, says the hockey theme will play out with keynote speaker Paul Henderson, who is best known for the goal he scored in the 1972 Super Series against Russia.

"Henderson's goal was voted the most memorable sports moment in the last 100 years of sports history in Canada, and the Canadian team he played with was voted team of the century."

Henderson is now a motivational speaker and works with the Leadership Group of Campus for Christ.

Another hockey personality, Ryan Walter, will be the master of ceremonies for the breakfast. Walter played junior hockey with the Western Hockey League and went on to win a Stanley Cup with the Montreal Canadiens.

Also speaking is Laurie Boschman who played with the Brandon Wheat Kings during the years when Don Funk refereed in the WHL. Boschman was drafted to the Toronto Maple Leafs and later played in Winnipeg and Edmonton, and finished in Ottawa as captain of the Ottawa Senators. Boschman is involved in Hockey Ministries International.

Guest soloist for the occasion is Cst. Lyndon Slewidge, who sings the national anthem at Ottawa Senators home games. He is often seen on Hockey Night in Canada. Funk says Slewidge will sing O Canada while the 40 x 20-foot flag from Merlin Motors is hoisted to the ceiling by RCMP officers in red serge.

"Last year's prayer breakfast paid tribute to our protective services: city police, fire fighters, and ambulance EMOs," Funk says. "This year, we are honouring law enforcement -- the RCMP and the military, particularly those who have fallen in the line of duty.

"Because of his hockey connection and his passionate support of Canadian Armed Forces, we invited Don Cherry to attend our event in person, but he is bound by his contract to Hockey Night in Canada. Don and CBC have arranged for a special video presentation to the armed services that will be played at the breakfast."

Funk says with Canada playing a significant role in Afghanistan, "we as a community want to show our passion for what the Canadian forces are doing.

We want to show our encouragement, love, and support, and offer our prayers for them as a faith community at large and as the citizens of this community and province."

He says the focus will be on the four native sons of Saskatchewan who have been killed in combat: Cpl. Shane Keating who grew up in Dalmeny; Cpl. David Braun from the Raymore area; Cpl. Bryce Keller and Master Cpl. Jeffery Walsh, both from Regina.

"We have invited the spouses or partners, children and parents of these fallen service men, as well as families of other armed forces members to the breakfast. Many are coming. We have also invited members from Camp Dundurn, Camp Shilo in Manitoba, and Wainwright and Edmonton, Alberta." Funk says people from the Armed Forces want to show their appreciation by partnering with Canadian Tire to donate 150 hockey sticks to inner city kids.

Tribute will also be paid at the breakfast to RCMP officers Marc Bourdages and Robin Cameron who died recently at Spiritwood.

Last year, the Mayor's Prayer Breakfast was sold out ten days before the event, and hundreds of requests for tickets had to be turned down. This year, the event has been moved to a much larger venue, Prairieland Park Trade Centre.

Funk says the mayors from Saskatchewan's 10 largest cities have been invited, as have elected members from all three levels of government.

"This is an event for the whole family," said Funk. "There will be a time for autographs after the breakfast, and an opportunity for photos with the sports personalities against a backdrop mural painted by local artist Don Pogoda of Paul Henderson's historic goal." Each guest at the breakfast will receive either Paul Henderson's book, Shooting For Glory, or his DVD, The Goal.

"It is open to people of all faith groups," said Funk, adding he has invited Multi-Faith Saskatoon to be part of the breakfast. "This event is not organized by City Hall; it is organized by 15 people in the community from various Christian denominations. Sponsorship comes from individuals and corporate people so that we can provide free passes to all the Canadian Forces members and their families."

The Mayor's Prayer Breakfast on March 10 begins at 8:30 a.m. Tickets are available at all Ticketmaster locations. Contact or Credit Union Place at 938-7800 or 1-800-970-7328.

Polachic is a freelance writer.

©The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2007

Hockey greats on breakfast slate

Jeanette Stewart
The StarPhoenix

Saturday, February 03, 2007

This year's Mayor's Prayer Breakfast will be a hockey-themed thank you to the Canadian Armed Forces.

Organizers have a full roster of NHL names lined up for the annual event, including an appearance by Don Cherry via pre-taped message.

Cherry agreed to contribute to the event because of his support for the Canadian Forces, said event co-chair Don Funk at a press conference to announce the breakfast.

"We chose to recognize and pay tribute to the Canadian Forces and RCMP because of the circumstances that have developed," said Funk, referring to Canada's commitment in Afghanistan and the lives lost during the past year.

The breakfast will also pay tribute to the families of RCMP constables Robin Cameron and Marc Bourdages, who died about a week after they were both shot on July 7, 2006, about 15 kilometres east of Spiritwood.

The Mayor's Prayer Breakfast, which takes place on March 10, is an annual event organized and sponsored by the Saskatoon Christian community. The breakfast committee is not organized by the city but made up of a group volunteers who put the event together.

Speakers for the upcoming breakfast include former Team Canada player Paul Henderson and Laurie Boschman, a former Toronto Maple Leaf.

Last year the event sold out, so organizers moved it to Prairieland Park to accommodate the large crowd they anticipate. Approximately 1,200 people attended last year's event at TCU Place.

Mayor Don Atchison said he's looking forward to being part of the growing event, which has taken place for 28 years.

"People will stop me during the year and say, 'Please make sure you have the Mayor's Prayer Breakfast again. That's the best event I go to,' " he said.

Atchison said the event is a celebration of the community at large, and most cities have similar events.

Funk said the breakfast is non-denominational and about entertainment as well as the Canadian Forces tribute.

Tickets for the event are $25 per person, available through Ticketmaster. The event is not a fundraiser. Any proceeds go toward costs for next year's breakfast.

©The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2007


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