over prayer at senior centers erupts in eastern Kentucky
by Cathie Shaffer of The Daily Independent
GREENUP - The county's senior centers are places
for golden-agers to meet for a meal, music, information and
But a recent memo from FIVCO has created a political
firestorm that has their normally placid attendees up in arms.
The memo, dated July 5, orders all centers connected
with FIVCO to replace the traditional prayer before meals
with a moment of silence, based on a complaint received by
According to Sandy Mendez, director of the Greenup
Senior Center, the complaint originated at her center. She
says the complaint came from someone who has only attended
a few times and who, she says, was confrontational during
his last visit.
The memo, sent to all centers overseen by FIVCO,
says only that the complaint came from "an individual
who feels he should not be subjected to the prayers of others,"
and adds "the same individual complained about music
in the center."
The solution offered by the staff of the Division
on Aging in Frankfort is that those wishing to participate
in activities should arrive a half-hour before planned meal
service, and those who wish only to eat should arrive a half-hour
after meal service begins, when entertainment should end so
"those who wish to do so may consume their meal without
The Greenup center offers daily noon meals along
with special activities which range from exercise classes
and weekly dances to off-site events like shopping and bowling.
Ralph Nichols, a regular at the Greenup center,
says he was the one who prayed the day that spurred the complaint.
"I offered a blessing on the food, then
I left because I had to be somewhere else," he said.
"I didn't know anything about it until after it was all
"It," according to Mendez, was a verbal
confrontation that nearly turned physical. Some of the Greenup
regulars were ready to throw punches, so Mendez asked the
complaintant into her office.
"He got in my face, yelling and shaking
his finger, and I shoved my chair back to get away,"
she said. "I finally has to ask him to leave to get things
Sybil Hill, also a regular at the Greenup center,
is appalled at the FIVCO decision.
"It's a shame that one person can complain
and have what they believe put over what everyone else believes,"
In Flatwoods, the senior center operates on
Monday, Wednesday and Friday, also with a noon meal. Their
activities include cards, corn toss, medical information sessions
and a weekly Bible study session.
Now some regulars worry that the Bible study
will be taken away next.
"If someone who has never been here can
take away our prayer and our music, how long until everything
is gone, too?" asked one regular.
South Shore, which operates a nutrition site
only, offers a hot meal and social interaction on Tuesday
Visits with attendees of all three centers showed
a common reaction: Everyone is angry.
The South Shore group had already decided to
petition FIVCO for a reversal of the decision, which has already
been done in Catlettsburg. However, they've decided to wait
on any such action, said Betty Carrington, a regular there.
"The South Shore site has met at the American
Legion Hall there for 25 years, and there has always been
a blessing before the meal, said Russell Maddix, who usually
offers the prayer.
"I read a scripture, I ask the blessing
and sometimes I sing a hymn, depending on my voice,"
he said. "Everyone has always enjoyed it, and
there's never been a complaint here. If there was, I wouldn't
Greenup County Judge-Executive Bobby Carpenter,
who also chairs the FIVCO board, says funding for the nutrition
program, which provides the meals, comes from the federal
Older Americans Act, with a miniscule amount provided by the
state's Title 3 program for office expense.
He says that, personally, he sees no problem
with prayer at the centers.
"If someone objects, they can come after
the prayer is given or step out," he says. "We have
prayer at the start of every fiscal court meeting, before
we begin any business, and I'd advise anyone who didn't to
hear the prayer to come in after we're done.
"As for the music, well, a lot of older
people can't hear very well. What may be too loud for some
of us will be just loud enough for them to hear it at all."
All three centers have adopted a new, non-official
policy regarding prayer. Before a pre-meal blessing is offered,
someone stand up and asks if there are objections. If no one
speaks up, an oral prayer is given. If someone does object
- which hasn't happened yet - a moment of silence will be
"I'll tell you what we all need to do,"
says Nichols of the Greenup center, "is all pray for
that man. He needs it."