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County Hall Corner: A Pledge and a Prayer

According to group psychologists, every organization has a certain number of habits, rituals, and practices that define it. These form the organization’s particular “culture.” In the most basic way, it says to those on the outside, “this is how we do things around here.” This culture becomes apparent when newcomers walk into the weekly meeting

According to group psychologists, every organization has a certain number of habits, rituals, and practices that define it. These form the organization’s particular “culture.” In the most basic way, it says to those on the outside, “this is how we do things around here.”

This culture becomes apparent when newcomers walk into the weekly meeting of the the Lycoming County Board of Commissioners on Thursday mornings. Having attended over a hundred of these meetings now, I know what they will see. The meeting is scheduled to begin at 10:00 a.m., and about ten minutes before this time, the county staff members will begin to file in one by one. Most do not talk to one another beyond a simple greeting as they are usually focused on the presentation they must make before the commissioners.

An energetic and smiling Marci Hessert, Administrative Manager for the Commissioners, will arrive no later than 9:55 and place the meeting agenda on the back table. Marci’s smile is important, as it has a tendency to lighten the mood that, at times, can be a little tense, especially when a possibly contentious matter is going to be addressed.

Then, almost precisely at 10:00 (or sometimes a couple of minutes after), the county solicitor and the three county commissioners will make their entrance from a side door and sit in their respective seats on the raised platform in the front of the room. With a quick glance both right and left to assure that everyone is present and accounted for, Commissioner Chairman Jack McKernan will call everyone to stand and bow their heads in prayer.

In the past, it seemed that the three commissioners took turns, but of late, it is generally Commissioner McKernan himself who will recite a prayer. It is obvious that he has it written down, selectively worded so no offense will be taken by a possible wrong word. Though the words may change, the idea is the same — God, we are asking for your help.

When the short prayer is finished, Commissioner McKernan will instruct everyone that the Pledge of Allegiance will now be recited, usually led by Commissioner McKernan himself. It is obvious that some people take the reciting of the Pledge as a necessary nuisance. Their hands might be in their pockets; they might be looking around the room, they might be just mouthing words that they have said many, many times before.

Though these organizational rituals are purely perfunctory to most, there are one or two who take these acts quite differently. During the prayer, some heads are bowed and by their attitude of reverence, they are demonstrating that addressing God is not to be taken lightly.
There are also those who stand ramrod straight, head erect, and proudly recite a Pledge of Allegiance to a flag that they had spent years of their life defending in the Armed Forces of the United States of America.

The Pledge acknowledges that the United States is one nation under God. The prayer reminds us that we need God’s help. This is part of America’s culture. Our country’s oldest traditions go back to these roots. As we celebrate our country’s birth, we should remember the stirring words of our Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The freedom and equality we celebrate has its origin in acknowledging the Creator.

It serves to keep us humble. Abraham Lincoln was once confronted by an elderly guest at a White House reception, who cried out to him, “My President, I am from up in New York State where we believe that God Almighty and Abraham Lincoln are going to save this country.” A smile crossed Lincoln’s face as he nodded and replied, “Well, my friend, you’re half right.”

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