The new mayor of South Portland, Maine is Tom Coward, and one of his first duties was to decide who would deliver the invocation at the ceremony in which other new city officials would be inaugurated.
He made a surprising (and welcome) pick: Andrew Lovley, a college senior who founded the Southern Maine Association of Secular Humanists (SMASH) on his campus.
[Lovley] told city officials, “In the face of adversity, we need not look above for answers.”
Instead, he said, we should “recognize the proven potential within ourselves and in each other to overcome any challenges that may arrive.”
Lovley, in phone and e-mail interviews after the event, acknowledged that most invocations are religious. But, he said, he believes a secular humanist version to be “the most inclusive and realistic.”
“My speech did not speak to only one denomination or sect, but to humankind in general,” Lovley said. “Since nearly all social problems are human in origin, I think it is important we accept the responsibility to develop our own solutions and not try to solicit help from up above.”
So what was the reaction from other city officials?
It ranged from lots of confusion (We have to look to ourselves to fix problems?!) to lots of praise (the speech was “different”…)
Andrew was nice enough to send me the text of his invocation address upon request. You can see for yourself how inspiring it is:
Today we have come together to mark a new beginning of governance in the city of South Portland. What lies ahead is an untold opportunity to affirm our ability and our responsibility to serve the greater good –- of which there is no higher purpose.
We must open our hearts to the welfare of all people within our community by respecting the inherent dignity within all of us, and realize that our differences of race, religion, and party affiliation are only superficial. We are united by our common humanity, and through our interdependence we share a common fate.
In order to achieve our greatest capabilities as citizens and leaders of this community, it is important for us maintain an open mind. Let us consider the benefit provided by differing perspectives, and be willing to question assumptions that only serve to obstruct our path to progress.
Rather than bowing our heads and closing our eyes in denial or deference, we should open our eyes widely to accept the reality that confronts us, without losing sight of our ideals of what it could be.
Through the prudent use of reason and compassion we can ensure the success of this great city.
Lastly we must remember that in the face of adversity we need not look above for answers, but instead recognize the proven potential within ourselves and in each other to overcome any challenges that may arise.
Wow. Kudos to Andrew for representing himself and other atheists so well.
In an email to me, Andrew also responded to the criticism from one reverend that “sometimes our best is not enough. Let’s call on something greater than ourselves.”
How is it appropriate to invoke fatalism when an invocation is meant to be inspiring? What I set out to do is invoke confidence in the human potential because that is where our success stems from.
I think he definitely inspired a lot of people.
Mayor Coward deserves our thanks, too; unlike so many before him, he has started his tenure out on the right foot by reaching out to a group that rarely gets acknowledgment from any government.