Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast

This morning, April 9, 2019, the first of what Mayor Mitch Panciuk hopes to be an annual tradition, The Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast, was held at the Banquet Centre. It was a celebration of the countless contributions made by our communities of faith. These contributions help to make Belleville a better place and the breakfast was to thank these individuals and groups for their valuable role within our community.

A special thank you to Councillor Sean Kelly for acting as MC for the breakfast, in addition to guest speakers: Father Hibbard -Holy Rosary,  Reverend Shawn Stickler -Pentecostals of Quinte, Balwinder Singh- Gursikh Sabha, Belleville  and Padre Mary Anne VanHeuvelen , 8 Wing Chapel. 

“We would like to thank Mayor Panciuk for inviting us to this celebration, to this lovely gathering which represents the all-inclusive spirit that is found in every corner of Belleville. The Sikh faith teaches that living in harmony as a community is essential to spiritual growth and inner peace.”

Balwinder Singh- Gursikh Sabha, Belleville 

Below are the notes from Mayor Panciuk’s comments at this morning’s Prayer Breakfast.

Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast Message

Good morning everyone. What a glorious morning it is here in our wonderful community.

It reminds me of a saying that my grandfather used to have – it would translate into, “It is a good day to be alive.”

Distinguished Clergy, Colleagues from Belleville City Council, Ladies and Gentlemen. Brothers & Sisters. Good morning to all of you as people of service for our Community.

Thank you so very much for attending the first of what I hope will become, an annual tradition of celebrating the contributions made by our communities of faith. These contributions, year in and year out, help make our Belleville a better place for all of us.

Thank you to my colleague, City Councillor Sean Kelly, for being the Master of Ceremonies and thank you to Reverend Shawn Stickler and all members of our Clergy who have presided this morning. I also thank Reverend Stickler for assisting me in planning this event.

Any praise for this event should go to Rev. Stickler and any complaints should be directed only to Councillor Kelly. But seriously, I would be pleased to hear any suggestions about how to make this morning better for next year.

A Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast may be new to the City of Belleville but it is common in many jurisdictions around the world. As the 76th Mayor of Belleville I am proud to debut this event and will continue to make this an annual priority during my Term of Office. It is my hope that my successors will keep this event alive. I look forward to further developing it next year and in the years to come.

This morning, I would like to start my remarks by reading a scripture passage from three different traditions of faith. I think they represent the similar teachings that all of us follow:

First, from the Torah, in Deuteronomy: 

"For the Eternal your God is God supreme and Lord supreme, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who shows no favor and takes no bribe, but upholds the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, providing food and clothing — you too must love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt."

From the New Testament, the Gospel of Matthew:

"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me."  Then the righteous will answer him, "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?"  The King will reply, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."

From Surah Al-Baqarah (Suh-RUH Al-back-ah-RAH)

"Goodness does not consist in turning your face towards East or West. The truly good are those who believe in God and the Last Day, in the angels, the Scripture, and the prophets; who give away some of their wealth, however much they cherish it, to their relatives, to orphans, the needy, travelers and beggars and to liberate those in debt and bondage; those who keep up the prayers and pay the prescribed alms; who keep pledges whenever they make them; who are steadfast in misfortune, adversity and times of danger. These are the ones who are true, and it is they who are aware of God."

All of the world faith traditions and other spiritual paths have sacred and important writings that very much convey the same messages contained in these three passages from the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic faith traditions. We are all expected to help others – the less fortunate, the suffering and those who are in need.

When you consider these different messages -- I don't know about you, but to me it sounds like we have more in common than others would sometimes like us to think.

All of us come from different faiths, and we do have differences in our beliefs.  There are also those in our City who do not belong to a community of faith or do not believe at all.

Yet we are all united by common principles.

We try to be good people and we try to be good examples to our families and to our neighbours.  We believe we should work to make the world a better place when we leave it, than it was when we entered it.  And whether it is done out of service to our community, our fellow human beings, or our service to our Creator -- our world could certainly use more of it.

From my perspective, I believe faith, prayer, and service all go together. Combined, they are a powerful force that makes our community a better place.

Some of you know that I am the son of a Romanian Orthodox Priest. Growing up, I often accompanied my dad when he went out to perform his duties in the service of his parish – to celebrate baptisms and weddings and also to comfort the suffering, to minister to the sick, to help families grapple with the events of life and to counsel fallen people on how they could gain redemption with the assistance of the higher power of our faith.

In each case or situation, I was able to clearly see how prayer was used to help people through everyday life and difficult circumstances. I was able to see how prayer provides an opportunity for reflection and introspection. We gather this morning to pray for continued blessings for our City. And we pray for the strength to further the work we do and continue to do even more.

For me, prayer is a very personal activity. I would never make any suggestion to anyone about how or when or why to pray - it's not my place to do so.  But I can tell you that, for me, prayer is powerful.

I know the power of prayer in helping clarify life’s happenings.  Prayer has the power to make us feel less alone, and I think many people today underestimate this power. It causes us to see that we are part of something bigger than just ourselves.

Our faith communities don’t need to be reminded that they are part of something bigger because they put this into practise daily.

Each and every day I learn more about what Belleville's communities of faith do for the community at large – and you do it quietly, behind the scenes, with little or no fanfare. A hot meal and a break from the cold here, a gift card for food or a night’s accommodation in a hotel there...

You welcome, settle, and support refugee families, you unify our community in peace and love in times of tragedy borne out of hatred and fear. You raise money for education and missions around the world.

Assisting and comforting the people of our city who experience the faith-testing tragedies of everyday life is no small task. It is not overstating the facts when I say that many are only able to continue to function during those times of grief because of the work of your organizations and your faith.

And perhaps most importantly, each and every day you provide examples and education to our youth about how we can be better people. You are raising a new generation with faith and hope for a better world and a better future.

We need you to keep helping others. We simply can't do it alone.

We wanted to do more than just offer words in appreciation of your tireless efforts, we wanted to show you – to demonstrate this appreciation -- by hosting a breakfast where we can gather together and become more energized as we share our time and experiences together.

And we wanted to simply say thank you.

At a Chamber of Commerce breakfast a few weeks ago, I spoke with a member of a local service organization who is almost 80 years old – Mr. Bill Black.  He remembers a time that was before Welfare, Employment Insurance and other social programs.

For the past twenty years, he has sold over sixty thousand dollars’ worth of chocolates each year, to help support his group's cause for our community. Mr. Black is here with us this morning and I would ask him to stand so we can recognize his generous service to our community.

Mr. Black is now experiencing health problems, the membership in his organization is shrinking, and he feels he may no longer be able to do that work.  He is worried about whom to pass the torch to.  And our community, and society as a whole, will suffer as a result. 

Forgive me for "preaching to the choir" this morning, but I believe many of our communities of faith are facing similar challenges.

If you should suddenly stop what you do for our community - either by choice or through the inability to continue to provide assistance – it would be devastating for our community.

There is no way financially or logistically that any government could step-in and replace the contribution you make to the well-being of Belleville - You, your organizations, congregations, communities, families, and friends.

This breakfast is simply one small way to recognize the enormous contributions you make. We want to share the good works you are already pursuing and the examples you set for our community.  And by gathering here together for breakfast, maybe -- just maybe – others will be inspired and become involved.

I have said ‘Thank You’ many times this morning and have tried to say it in many different ways. Words do not seem to be enough because I know the search for praise is not WHY you do what you do.

We know you seek not the thanks of man, but cherish the rewards you shall receive from your Creator, whose Will be done on Earth, as it is in Heaven.

Each day in our City, good people choose to help others. They help others in their family, they help others in their neighbourhoods, they help others at work, school and wherever they happen to be.

Some do this because they see the benefit that others receive from this assistance, and others do this because of how it makes them feel when they make a positive difference in the lives of others.

Many of us choose to help others because this is what we have been taught – that there is a purpose for our life, and part of that purpose is to serve our Creator through the service of others.

We should all be inspired by your leadership, inspired to look inward, to see if each of us can do more.  Can we raise ourselves to give more, to use our spiritual gifts in a way that betters our community, while being worthy of our faith and our purpose?

If we take this to heart, we will all do better.  We will be better. We will be better individually, and we will be better as a community. Our purpose is to walk with love and grace, and to be servants along the way.

Over the past century, western civilization has changed dramatically when it comes to providing for those who are less fortunate.  We have seen this responsibility shift away from religious and community organizations toward governments and bureaucracy.

And while this means our society can more equitably serve a larger number of those in need, it has had the negative effect of shifting individual responsibility from community service, to paying taxes.  It has effectively sterilized the awareness of the plight of the disenfranchised, as we rely on elected officials and governments to use more and more tax dollars to help others on our behalf.  It has changed the attitude of many from, "how can I serve?" to "I pay my taxes – so that's now someone else's problem."

But not you here in this room.

Your time, your resources, and your faith are all essential to our community and this contribution to Belleville is, quite simply, priceless.

I ask on behalf of my colleagues on City Council and all of the men and women of Belleville – please bring back this message of gratitude, encouragement and reverence to your fellow parishioners and followers.

Let them know you are not alone and that we are united.

Let us commit ourselves and our congregations, churches, synagogues, temples and mosques to continue to do the work our faith demands. Let us support each other as we work together to make our community a better place.

And when we make that commitment, let us always remember that we do so not just for ourselves, but for the benefit of our community and the glory of our God.

Every day, I know there are people who pray for me. I know this, because I have asked them to.  And it is important to me.  I can actually feel this support strengthen and sustain me.

During the campaign last year and since, I have asked many people to pray for God to grant me the necessary wisdom and skills to do justice to the position of public trust that I and members of our Council have been blessed with. I ask them to pray for our families who serve right along with us and support us in the execution of our duties.

The generosity of others including us in their personal prayers is yet another expression of their grace, and of their love.

Grace and love are qualities we could use a lot more of in our world today. But I think we do a disservice to ourselves when we don’t acknowledge that there is a lot more grace and love in our community than we see.

I ask you to keep me and our City Council and our good City in your prayers. It makes a difference when you do so and we benefit from those prayers.

Thank you for attending this morning. I look forward to seeing more results of your work as you make a difference for all people in our City.

Until we gather again next year at this event, I wish you well.

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