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Governing with Prayer

It has been noted in New Zealand Parliamentary history that the first vote ever held in the House was over whether a prayer should be recited. Other New Zealand historians note that the contention rose about whether one denomination would be favoured or not. Those who drafted the New Zealand constitution were emphatic that it should guarantee strict equality for all, and this first debate challenged the principle of equality. There were many proposals for a prayer to be instituted, but a view put forward that the very appearance of a state religion should be avoided. Religious differences between Protestant and Catholic were deftly handled by Speaker Clifford (Catholic himself) in bringing the local Anglican clergyman in to do the honours. (see Sound: Parliament's opening prayer | NZHistory, New Zealand history online) Since then, for 160 years, New Zealand Parliament has opened in prayer (read by the Speaker) every sitting day, although the wording has been changed several times. Once the prayer has been read the Mace is placed on the Table by the Serjeant-at-Arms and the business of the House may commence.

The Office of the Clerk of the House of Representatives says: The fact that the House commences its sittings with a prayer, and what form that prayer takes, is a matter exclusively for it. The practice is not subject to scrutiny by a court or other body outside Parliament. Ireland has recently debated the place of prayer in state proceedings, and while New Zealand is not planning on removing prayer altogether, they are revisiting the wording of the prayer that has been used 1962.

The current Speaker of Parliament, Rt Hon David Carter, has asked MPs for feedback about 2 options for the prayer by 5 December, one being the current wording (shown in our image above), and the other with Maori and English.

The wording of the prayer is not regarded as binding on the Speaker, and the Speaker has used a Maori version of the current prayer. This version appears to be the 2nd option of prayer now being proposed to become the standard prayer in future.

The new wording proposed for the prayer has English and Maori elements and would read: - E te Atua Kaha Rawa (Almighty God) Ka whakamanawa taua hunga katoa kua riro atu i mua i a tatau – moe mai okioki (We honour those who have gone before us – rest, slumber on.) We recognise the mana whenua, Te Ati Aawa, the kaitiaki of this region, Te Upoko-o-Te-Ika-a-Maui. We acknowledge the need for guidance and lay aside all private and personal interests so that we may conduct the affairs of this House for the maintenance of justice, the honour of the Queen and the public welfare, peace, and tranquillity of New Zealand. Amine (Amen).

We pray that those contributing to the decision on this will be guided well, and fully consider the history of this prayer and its place when providing their feedback to the Speaker.

The following is from the NIV Stewardship Study Bible’s Exploring Stewardship feature, “Governing Authorities–Stewards of Public Life” on p. 1482 (Romans 13:1-4):

‎Lord God, ruler of all, I thank you for instituting authority and government, and I pray that good will be done and evil contained. I thank you for my country and praise you for the times when order is maintained and there is safety and peace. Guide those in authority and give them a clear sense of your will.

(Credit: decorative line in the image is courtesy of Freepik.com)

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