Traditionally, the city of Lodi's Community Service Award goes to an individual who has made a significant difference to the city.
This time, Mayor John Beckman gave the award Wednesday to 59 individuals and their institutions - the churches that serve the community.
"(The churches), as personified by each of you in this room today, are truly what make Lodi livable and lovable," Beckman said before giving out a certificate to the more than 20 pastors present at a special luncheon at Hutchins Street Square.
"All of you in this room are the community service providers of Lodi," Beckman added.
Awards were given primarily to Christian pastors, but one was also given to Mohammad Shoaib, president of the Lodi Muslim Mosque. Shoaib attended the city luncheon with Nick Qayyum, a member of the mosque board.
Ken Fujimoto, pastor of the Buddhist Church of Lodi, was also invited, but he couldn't make it. Fujimoto, along with all Lodi pastors who didn't attend the luncheon, will receive certificates of recognition.
The Community Service Award is selected by the mayor each year, but it is usually awarded during the first City Council meeting in December. Beckman said he thought it would be more appropriate to give the award at a luncheon to which all Lodi pastors were invited.
In previous years, awards were given to one or two individuals. Last year, then-Mayor Larry Hansen gave the Community Service Award to Dr. Walter Reiss and Patricia Sherman. Other winners in recent years have included Robert Tan, Loreine Kettleman, Maria Cervantes, Richard Jones and Kenneth Mullen.
In giving his Community Service Award Wednesday, Beckman praised religious leaders for guiding people, providing a moral compass to help everyone live together in peace, celebrating marriages and births, visiting the sick and helping people who are between jobs make ends meet.
"I believe that a solid and vibrant religious community is the most important factor in determining the health and well-being of a city," Beckman said.
Hansen also thanked pastors for their service to the community and praised Beckman for making a wise selection. Hansen said he has met with pastors personally as the city has undergone some difficult challenges.
Hansen added that he appreciates pastors for offering prayers at the beginning of each City Council meeting.
"I listen to the prayers," he said.
Religious leaders, Christian and Muslim, voiced appreciation to Beckman for recognizing their contributions to the community.
Qayyum, the Lodi Muslim Mosque board member, said that the Muslim community was very excited after he and Shoaib brought the award back to the mosque Wednesday afternoon. It is framed and hanging in the front room of the mosque on Poplar Street.
"We were very thankful to be invited (to the luncheon)," Qayyum said. "Hopefully we can keep doing this."
The luncheon, attended by four City Council members, City Manager Blair King and City Attorney Steve Schwabauer, was to feature a round-table discussion about topics that city or church leaders wanted to discuss.
However, only Major Frank Severs of the Salvation Army offered any comments, so Beckman ended the meeting and asked city and church officials to pose for a group photo.
"I think it would be very healthy for all of us to share some views," Qayyum said.
While the luncheon was posted as an official Lodi City Council meeting, City Attorney Steve Schwabauer said later Wednesday that the meeting with pastors does not violate laws separating church and state.
The main reason, Schwabauer said, is that religious leaders of all faiths, including Islam and Buddhism, were invited.
"I don't think the state has to ignore the church or act like it doesn't exist. (The luncheon meeting) didn't favor a religion."
However, if the City Council considered an ordinance requiring people to go to church, that would be a violation of the church-and-state law, he said.
Peter Scheer, executive director of the nonprofit California First Amendment Coalition, agrees that there were no church-and-state issues as long as the city didn't give any cash to the churches.