PORT WENTWORTH, Ga. -- After a brief fall from grace, mealtime prayer was restored Monday at Port Wentworth's Ed Young Senior Citizens Center.
After initially telling members last week that they could no longer pray out loud before meals because the meals are partially funded by the federal government, Senior Citizens Inc. reversed course to the relief of the center's members.
"I thank the Lord for that," said Ruby Neesmith. "We should have the freedom to speak up and pray."
Port Wentworth Mayor Glenn "Pig" Jones announced the news late in the afternoon during a press conference at the center packed full of members.
"I think everything is good now," Jones said. "We're happy."
'Part of a full life'
Jones shared a statement he said was provided by Patricia Lyons, the president of Senior Citizens Inc.
Lyons said the Georgia Department of Human Services, Division of Aging Services clarified and reversed the position Monday, after the state had instructed the organization for years that verbal prayer was not allowed at any senior center.
"As an organization, we feel that spirituality is an important and necessary part of a full life and we are thankful that this interpretation of the regulation makes prayer possible in all of its forms," Lyons said.
Senior Citizens Inc. officials said last week that people could not pray out loud because of the federal government's rules regarding the separation of church and state. The company provides meals for about $6 a plate. Seniors taking the meals pay 55 cents and federal money foots the rest of the bill.
"I think it's wonderful," said Doris Allen, who is a regular at the center. "If it wasn't for God, you wouldn't have nothing."