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WATCH: Unholy row over vicar's EU prayer at Dudley Council meeting

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Keep politics out of prayer – that was the message from angry councillors after a Black Country vicar brought up the European Union during prayers at a council meeting.

There are now calls for Rev Andrew Wickens to be barred from future meetings of Dudley Council.

Rev Wickens sparked a furore when he said those arguing for an exit from the EU 'need to be aware of the risks of stoking anti-European sentiment'.

He added migrants trying to enter Britain and the EU should not be 'further stigmatised' in a bid to score political points.

But his opening prayers were interrupted by councillors concerned about the content, telling him to stick to the Lord's Prayer.

Midway through the prayers, Conservative councillor Chris Elcock called out: "I'm a Christian. What has this got to do with prayer. Can we just have the Lord's Prayer?"

Labour Councillor Karen Jordan added: "Whether you agreed what the minister was saying or not you should not be rude and interrupt. If you have any comments, make them after he has spoken."

Rev Wickens said that as Mayor's Chaplain he regularly prefaced his prayers with a 'reflection'

After the meeting, Councillor Etheridge, called for Rev Wickens to be banned from future meetings.

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He said: "Far from the Star of Bethlehem the Chaplain seemed more focused on the stars of the EU.

"The service was utterly appalling. I have never been so disgusted during a council meeting.

"To bring politics into prayer is totally inexcusable and to dominate his service on the EU I believe was an abuse of his position.

"I will be formally writing to the mayor calling for him to be banned from attending future full council meetings."

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UKIP MEP and Dudley councillor Bill Etheridge wants Rev Wickens barred from council meetings

In his opening prayers, Rev Wickens, said: "First the question before us is whether the United Kingdom should remain in the European Union or not.

"And although this is often characterised as being pro or anti-European, this is to my mind a mistake. Those who believe in the UK, the UK should leave, are not automatically thereby little Englanders or Welsh, Scottish or Northern Irish counterparts. Nor are they xenophobic as such.

"What is true though in the midst of what is likely to prove a heated debate is that those who advocate leaving will need to be aware of the risks of stoking anti-European sentiment as such."

Rev Wickens was interrupted mid-prayer but then told to carry on by the mayor

He added: "Second, as we weigh up our minds we need to be aware of the implications of the decision and the debate for those who are most vulnerable. Again, without taking sides in the vexed political questions around immigration which all political parties face, we need to be aware left in heat of the intense debate before us that migrant groups are not further stigmatised.

"The reality is that migrants already feel vulnerable. And as what will no doubt prove a close contest develops is behoves us all to challenge those tempted to exploit fears that people may understandably have.

"We must treat with some caution appeals that will be made from both sides as to what is in the national interest or is best for Britain."

Mr Wickens is vicar in charge at St Thomas and St Luke's Church, known as Top Church, in Dudley.

Mr Wickens, who is also chairman of Dudley Interfaith Network, said: "It is a privilege for me to serve as Mayor's Chaplain and to lead the Council meeting in prayers.

"In this role as chaplain I have generally prefaced the prayers with a reflection as I did last night.

"If my words caused offence then that is something I regret though it was certainly not my intention."

Council leader Councillor Pete Lowe said: "It was a less than three-minute contribution and seems to have been deliberately taken out of context by Bill Etheridge.

"I listened to the comments from Andrew last night and I don't think he was giving a political swing one way or the other.

"He was making wider points about community cohesion."

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