For the last 32 years, people have gathered for a prayer breakfast in Bakersfield, to seek guidance from a higher power in the affairs of the city, the county, the state and our nation.
The Bakersfield Prayer Breakfast, while open to people of all faiths, has always had Judeo-Christian underpinnings. In recent days, critics have accused organizers of being "exclusionary."
It's a time for the community to come together and pray, but some critics say there is a problem in the message, and, more specifically, how the event is promoted.
"Nobody can argue that prayer is a good thing and brings people together," said Joseph Hanson, Chairman of the 33rd annual Bakersfield Prayer Breakfast.
But, critics are questioning if the event's Christian theme excludes other faiths. "The problem is when you say you're praying for the city and you're using the city logo," said Mike Miller, a member of the Jewish community.
But, Hanson said the logo on the event flier is no longer used by the city. "It's not a city-sponsored event and never has been," he explained.
"The Bakersfield Prayer Breakfast is put together by a group of lay people in the community and we rather invite the community and its government leaders to attend," Hanson continued.
Mayor Harvey Hall's office sells tickets for the event. "It's all about coming together and praying for Bakersfield and the good worth we stand for here," said Mayor Hall.
But, critics say the event promotes the Christian view of Jesus. "They should combine everybody together. That's the whole thing," said Manjit Singth, a member of the Sikh community.
A flier for the breakfast features a cross with the phrase "to bring citizens together in the name and spirit of Jesus Christ."
"We're sending kind of the wrong message and especially here in Bakersfield. We have a wonderful understanding among faith-based communities. What we don't want to see is that eroded in any way," said Emad Meerza, Islamic Shoura Council of Bakersfield.
"If we wanted to make it exclusive, we would say that only Christians are invited or we might go to churches and say only churches are invited," said Hanson.
Taft High School will be honored at the breakfast on Thursday, January 31st at the Rabobank Convention Center. Students will lead a prayer for those who were in the classroom during the recent shooting. Doors open at 6:00 a.m.