Back in June, Nuala McAllister was elected the Lord Mayor of Belfast, Northern Ireland, and Saturday night was her installation dinner.
It should’ve been an evening of celebration for the new leader of Belfast — a 28-year-old new mother who sounds absolutely delightful in this profile — but it became controversial when McAllister, an open atheist, didn’t ask anyone to say grace before the food arrived.
(I know, I know. In the U.S., our political controversies now involve wondering whether a mad man will tweet his way into World War III. But stay with me here.)
McAllister didn’t draw attention to this. She didn’t say, “We’re skipping grace. Thank the chefs instead!” She didn’t even comment on it later. She just… had the food served.
Yet some people are acting like she just sullied the good name of the entire city.
The Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Dr Noble McNeely, who attended the event for the first time, said he led prayers at his table when it became apparent that it wasn’t on the agenda for the evening.
“There was no grace on the programme and the Master of Ceremonies didn’t call anyone to lead the gathering in grace,” he said.
“I’m sure Dr Laurence Graham (President of the Methodist Church in Ireland) or myself would have been prepared to say grace but that wasn’t requested. I don’t know why that didn’t happen but maybe it is a sign of the times.”
Jesus H. Christ. Just say the prayers on your own if you want. It’s not that complicated. Better yet, say them in your head. Your God doesn’t need a microphone to hear you.
Wait, there’s more.
Free Presbyterian minister Rev David McLaughlin said Ms McAllister’s decision to scrap grace was a “glaring omission”.
Saying grace at the Lord Mayor’s installation dinner is something that has been done by way of custom for the last 25 years.
“I’m very annoyed at this very sad state of affairs; it’s a further indication of the erosion of the Christian heritage upon which this country was founded; indeed, it shows how far we’ve departed from our Christian heritage when we can’t even offer a simple thanks for food,” said Rev McLaughlin.
Whatever the city’s Christian heritage once was, it’s rapidly changing. In Belfast, a quarter of the population was non-Christian in 2011. I suspect the numbers have gone up since then.
They weren’t done complaining yet.
Belfast High Sheriff Tom Haire said that while some guests were annoyed at the absence of grace, his table didn’t miss out, thanks to his neighbour Rev McNeely.
“Our table did its own thing; we invited Rev McNeely to say grace so we weren’t put out in any shape or form,” he said.
“It was obvious, however, that some tables were waiting before starting dinner because they were expecting prayers as is the normal tradition.”
Good lord, these people probably need instructions from above before wiping their ass in the bathroom.
It’s just dinner. You’re all adults. Say whatever you want before eating. You don’t need the mayor asking someone to lead everyone in prayer first.
McAllister has pledged to “promote a Belfast that is open, welcome and inclusive.” Letting people say grace (or not) however they want to is a simple way to make sure no one feels left out. The religious leaders who can’t handle it are only mad because their faith isn’t being given special treatment like they’re used to.
In any case, hats off to McAllister for doing away with at least one silly religious tradition. There’s no reason to continue formalizing faith in the government and she in no way prevented people from praying on their own. This was a win-win for everyone. Unless you’re like those religious leaders and you only find joy when others are marginalized.
(Screenshot via YouTube. Thanks to Niall for the link. I have removed demographic data that applied only to the Republic of Ireland.)