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Bringing a little church to the state

Oxford pastor opens legislative session with prayer

April 17, 2013 - ader Editor

Oxford resident Dave Gerber had the Michigan House of Representatives' undivided attention as he addressed the body on Thursday, April 11.

But his message wasn't political; it was spiritual.

Gerber, who's a pastor at the Williams Lake Church of the Nazarene in Waterford Township, opened the legislative body's session that day with an introductory prayer or invocation.

He was invited to do so by state Rep. Brad Jacobsen (R-Oxford).

"I don't know many pastors that have done it," Gerber said. "It was an honor. I was thrilled to be asked and thrilled to be a part of it."

House tradition calls for a different representative or clergy member from their district to open each day's session with a prayer. This is done on a rotating basis.

"I've known Dave since he came to town," said Jacobsen, who noted Gerber's work as a chaplain for the Oxford Police since 1998 is "a great service to the officers and the community."

"He's well-respected and really a fun preacher."

Jacobsen's attended a couple funeral services Gerber has presided over and "he's very different than many of the other clergy members that I've heard speak over the years."

"David always brings a lighthearted, human aspect to the various ceremonies," he said. "I thought the other legislative members would appreciate that. He kept the prayer quite serious, but he was his normal jovial self when I introduced him."

"He's just a good guy who's done a lot for the community and I thought he deserved this opportunity," Jacobsen added.

Unlike the usual Sunday sermons, Gerber explained the prayer for the state House had to be "general in nature" and 1-3 minutes long.

"It had to be written and submitted at least a day before," he said.

When drafting his prayer, Gerber said, "I didn't want to go in with my agenda or what I think they should deal with."

Instead, the pastor wanted "to recognize how difficult their job is to make laws with such a diverse electorate."

"I wanted to invoke God's presence and bless them as they work to benefit the state as best they can considering all the people they represent and how difficult that task must be," Gerber said.

When asked why he believes it's important to have a prayer before something like a legislative session, the pastor replied, "We all want to live in a just and moral society, so I think the politicians can use all the help they can get to remind themselves of who they serve and what their job is about."

Gerber noted how different it was to speak to a group of elected officials as opposed to a congregation.

He explained that at church, people gather "of their own free will" to express their common faith.

However, the state representatives are there to do a job, not worship. As a result, Gerber "felt a little strange" that his words "could be foisted upon them."

"I certainly was aware that not everybody shares my belief," he said.

With that in mind, Gerber worked extra hard to ensure nothing in his message could be considered divisive or controversial. He wanted his words to be inclusive and unifying.

"I wanted to be a good guest," he said. "I was trying to be gracious and not be the ugly American. I wanted to wish the best for them regardless of who they were or where they stood."

Gerber noted this was the first time he had ever visited the Capitol building in Lansing.

"I'd never been there as a kid," he said. "I certainly got a pretty cool tour."

The pastor was impressed by everything he saw, from the special passageways for the legislators to the countless people scurrying around on the House floor.

"It was a beehive of activity, that's for sure," Gerber said. "I kept saying to my wife, 'This is pretty cool!'

"Brad and his staff were good hosts. They were all very nice and very welcoming. Overall, it was a great experience, a lot of fun."

But don't look for Gerber to give up his passion for the pulpit for the pageantry of politics anytime soon.

"I don't do the political thing," he said. "That's as close to the political process as I really care to be."

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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