NEW mayor David Rickard has come under fire from church leaders after axing prayers at council meetings in Bridport.

He set out the move at his mayor making ceremony when he succeeded six times mayor Coun Geoff Ackerman.

Coun Rickard, 66, has insisted upon a short time of quiet contemplation at the full meetings of Bridport Town Council instead of the Lord’s Prayer.

Canon Andrew Evans, who is the team rector for the Bridport Team Ministry, and Churches Together chairman Philip Ringer were among those disappointed by the move.

Canon Evans said: “I respect his personal views but I was, of course, saddened to hear this because I believe the office of mayor to be above personal and political conviction and affiliation. “It was also sad for there to be no one representing the Christian community at the mayor making ceremony this year.

“The ecclesiastical and civil authorities in the United Kingdom are united in the Crown with Her Majesty as head of state and head of the church. Prayers before the work of the council begins still seems somehow very appropriate.”

Mr Evans said that church community would continue to pray for the council and its councillors. He also held up the recent service for the granting of the freedom of Bridport as an example of the good partnership between church and council.

He added: “I am sure that I speak for all the members of the town’s Christian community when I say we wish Mr Rickard a very successful and happy year as mayor and are very supportive of his wish to see the Rights Respecting Community flourish.”

The Rev Philip Ringer, who is chairman of Churches Together in Bridport and District, said he was greatly disappointed.

“On many occasions during my ministry I have acted as chaplain to both town and district councils.

“I have always been aware that some members, including the mayor, have not been Christian believers, but have nevertheless paid due regard to the inherited custom and practice of the corporate body they lead during their term of office.”

Former mayor and independent councillor David Tett said: “I am a traditionalist.

“I am disappointed to see the prayers thrown out of the window like that. It is totally uncalled for.”

Coun Tett, who has been a councillor since 1995, added: “I can remember back to the seventies and can’t recall the mayor not ever having a chaplain.”

Coun Rickard outlined his plans to keep the clergy involved in religious elements of the mayoral year but dispense with prayers and welcome those of all faiths at civic occasions.

“I have invited the Rev Canon Andrew Evans and his team to represent the mayor and town council for the religious elements of the civic year,” he said.

“I know that they are all supportive of the community justice panels and of the rights respecting agenda and I am sure they will be an asset and bring much to these projects.

“I will be asking Canon Evans for an ecumenical approach to civic occasions to include those of all faiths and none.

“In light of that I intend during my year to dispense with formal prayers at the start of full council meetings and replace them with a short time of quiet private contemplation.”