Mid-Columbia Meals on Wheels officials plan to review the new religious practices policy that upset senior citizens at the Kennewick meal site and stirred a strong reaction in the community.
The policy still is in effect, but the local Meals on Wheels advisory committee, made up of clients, will take another look at it as early as next week, said John Rupp, CEO of Senior Life Resources Northwest, which runs the Mid-Columbia program.
The group will consider the feedback from the seniors and community, look at guidelines from the federal Administration on Aging about prayer at meals sites that receive government funding and look at the prayers allowed in the state Legislature and U.S. Congress at the start of sessions, Rupp said.
"I committed to the seniors that I would go back (to the advisory committee)," he said. "We'll get the committee's comment and position and take it to the (Senior Life Resources) board of directors."
Both groups discussed the new policy before it was enacted. The policy doesn't ban prayer at Meals on Wheels sites altogether, but says staff and volunteers won't lead, sponsor or participate in prayer or religious practices as part of the program services or turn over time for group vocal prayers as part of the meal service.
At some sites, senior associations independently handle welcoming routines and announcements, and the policy doesn't apply to those routines.
Rupp has said Meals on Wheels serves people with a range of religious beliefs, or none at all, and can't promote one particular religion.
The policy says site managers may hold a moment of silence for private prayer and personal worship.
But seniors at the Kennewick meal site -- the busiest of several Meals on Wheels dining sites in the Tri-City area -- for years have taken turns verbally leading the group in prayer right before lunch.
Several of the seniors told the Herald it's a cherished tradition -- and their right. One volunteer announced he had quit over the new policy.
The Herald published a front page story about the issue earlier this week.
Rupp has said the new policy was developed after some issues involving group prayer at meal sites.
Bob Woolsey, 84, a regular at the Kennewick dining site, has described the prayers as simple and nondenominational. He's been in touch with a Texas-based religious freedom group that's reportedly sent a letter to Meals on Wheels about the policy.
Woolsey said he and his fellow seniors plan to continue to pray together before lunch.
Rupp said he's heard a lot of feedback from the community -- both for and against the new policy -- the last few days. He said he understands the attention and interest but hopes the issue doesn't overshadow the Meals on Wheels mission.
"We want to be certain people remember we're here to help seniors with their nutritional needs," he said. "I hope people don't lose sight of that."