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Bill Kirby Jr.: Mayor, aldermen may take on prayer and a pledge in Spring Lake


SPRING LAKE - Alderman Raul Palacios had just bowed his head for the invocation and asked the Lord to be with the board and those serving in military uniform.

“God, we thank you” and “we ask that you continue to bless the work that we're doing here and give favor to our citizens,” the alderman prayed. “We ask that you would touch our first-responders, as well as the men and women overseas. In Jesus’ name, we pray.”

Amen, Palacios closed.

Spring Lake Mayor Kia Anthony wants the Lord to know he just might not be welcome back to Board of Aldermen meetings, but Alderwoman Sona Cooper and Palacios temporarily put an end Monday night to any discussion about removing prayer from town meetings.

Board members and the mayor were unanimous in removing it from the agenda.

“This meeting was started with prayer,” said the Rev. Jeffery Saffold, 65, pastor of Manna Life Center Ministries on West Manchester Road. “I work 10-hour days, but there was no way I wasn’t going to be here.”

Saffold was at Monday’s meeting as part of the Spring Lake Ministerial Alliance, and he didn’t come alone. He was joined by the Rev. Steve Morris of Living Water Assembly of God on North Bragg Boulevard, Bishop Gwendolyn Biggers of His Glorious Praise Outreach Ministry on Lillington Highway and the Rev. Vernon Marsh of Red Cross Tabernacle of Praise on North Bragg Boulevard.

“I found out about it three hours ago,” Morris said.

Morris said he came to learn what was behind eliminating the invocation from board meetings and “why it has come up.”

Marsh said he believed the board should have come to the Spring Lake Ministerial Alliance, which includes eight Spring Lakes churches, before considering a decision related to prayer at town board meetings. He called it a matter of courtesy. The pastor said he had calls from others once they heard what was scheduled for the board agenda.

“They thought we needed to be here,” Marsh said, “and voice our concerns.”

‘I pledge allegiance to the flag'

Anthony said at a December training meeting with the new board that “not everyone is a Christian and not everyone wants to pray to the Christian God.” And the mayor said before Monday’s meeting that she believes an invocation before a town board meeting “is in direct violation of the U.S. Constitution,” as per an article from the UNC School of Government in 2017.

And in fairness to Anthony, she said prior to Monday night’s board meeting that when new information or inquiries are brought to her attention, as mayor, she has a “legal, moral and ethical obligation to bring it up.” That is reasonable.

Jonathan Charleston is the town attorney. I asked him if the town was in violation of the U.S. Constitution. “I don’t know,” he said. You can be assured that Charleston will find out and be getting back to the mayor and the aldermen.

“Amen,” Palacios said after Monday night’s invocation. Then all of the aldermen turned toward the American flag, placed their hands across their hearts and recited the Pledge of Allegiance.

You know the words.

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

By the way, that’s up for consideration of elimination, too. And keep in mind that Spring Lake is a town with military residents from next-door-neighbor Fort Bragg, the largest military installation by population in the country.

There’s some good news. Aldermen Marvin Lackman and Palacios have said they are not in favor of banishing invocations from board meetings, and Cooper says perhaps a nonsectarian prayer might be an alternative.


So, let us review. In Spring Lake, municipal leaders are weighing whether to tell God that he’s not necessarily welcome for their board meetings in the Grady Howard Conference Room at town hall. And that the Pledge of Allegiance may not have a place, either.

Give a listen.

You can hear a rumbling at the Sandhills State Veterans Cemetery just up the road, and over at the nearby Fort Bragg Main Post Cemetery, too.

And if this matter comes up again at a town board meeting, the mayor and the aldermen likely will be seeing and hearing from the Rev. Jeffery Saffold, the Rev. Steve Morris, the Rev. Vernon Marsh, Bishop Gwendolyn Biggers and a whole bunch of Christian disciples, too.

Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at billkirby49@gmail.com or 910-624-1961.

Spring Lake, Board of Aldermen, prayer, invocation, Pledge of Allegiance, Spring Lake Ministerial Alliance, Kia Anthony