Tami Pyfer

LOGAN — It's a common occurrence before public meetings in Utah: A member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints offers a prayer asking for guidance from Heavenly Father.

But at Logan City Council meetings this year, the LDS prayer is likely to be followed by a prayer from a Catholic priest, an evangelical minister or an Episcopal rector. Councilwoman Tami Pyfer decided to invite representatives from other religions to pray at every other council meeting when she was elected to chair the council in January.

"I just wanted to invite a little more diversity to the meetings," Pyfer said. "I wanted to reach out to a broader section of our community."

The Rev. Ruth Eller, rector at St. John's Episcopal Church in Logan, said she has offered prayers a couple of times at council meetings. Although she appreciates the city's efforts to include other religions, Eller said she's concerned the city might be crossing the line separating church and state by allowing prayers of any kind.

"I'm glad to do it here, because there is such a huge, huge majority of one faith," Eller said. "(But) to include any kind of religious experience in a government meeting of any kind is iffy."

The Rev. Clarence Sandoval, a priest at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in nearby Hyde Park, has no problem with prayers at public meetings. Sandoval, who estimates Catholics outnumber members of any religion in Cache Valley except Latter-day Saints, accepted an invitation to pray at a Logan council meeting.

"It's nice to have God be present, and they're tolerant of other religions to come in and take part," he said. "I think it's a good thing."

Pyfer, a Latter-day Saint, said Utah has a long tradition of prayers at public meetings, and the practice doesn't violate the First Amendment's freedom of religion clause.

"I just don't see it as a conflict," Pyfer said. "People aren't being mandated to participate in any way during the opening ceremony. It's completely voluntary participation."

Responses have been positive, Pyfer said.

"People are saying they thought it was a refreshing change of pace," she said.

To find representatives from various religions, Pyfer consults Cache Community Connections, a group founded after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to improve communication among faiths. The group of about 25 includes Latter-day Saints, mainstream Protestants, evangelical Christians, Quakers, Buddhists, Muslims and representatives of other religions.

The City Council meets bimonthly, and instead of a nondenominational prayer before every meeting, a council member is asked to pray or express an inspirational thought before every other meeting. Among the people council members have quoted are Thomas Jefferson, Ronald Reagan, Mother Teresa and late LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley.

Councilman Jay Monson, a Latter-day Saint, said encouraging differing viewpoints enriches Logan.

"Faith and religion are a major part of the lives of most citizens of Logan, and we all share a common purpose in helping to make this a great place in which to live," Monson said. "As we celebrate diversity and work together in community causes, we realize that we are much more alike than different."

E-mail: [email protected]