U.S. Senate Chaplain Barry C. Black was elected in 2003.
Posted on the official U.S. Senate website is: “Chaplain’s Office – Throughout the years, the United States Senate has honored the historic separation of Church and State, but not the separation of God and State. The first Senate, meeting in New York City on April 25, 1789, elected the Right Reverend Samuel Provost, the Episcopal Bishop of New York, as its first chaplain. During the past two hundred and seven years, all sessions of the Senate have been opened with prayer, strongly affirming the Senate’s faith in God as Sovereign Lord of our Nation.”
This was a continuation of the practice of the Continental Congress during the Revolution, as Ben Franklin remarked in 1787: “In the beginning of the Contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayer in this room for Divine protection.”
With the Revolutionary War separating America from England, the Anglican Church of England in America began separating into the Episcopal Church in 1784. Samuel Provoost was the first Episcopal bishop of New York and the third presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States. He was chaplain of the Continental Congress in 1785, and chosen as the first chaplain of the U.S. Senate in 1789.
Bishop Samuel Provoost conducted George Washington’s inaugural service at New York’s St. Paul’s Chapel. Bishop Samuel Provoost preached the first Episcopal ordination sermon in St. George’s Chapel, New York City, July 15, 1787: “We are occupied in the … most important business that can possibly engage the human mind … that … in the Hands of God, we shall be made the happy instruments of turning many from Darkness to Light, and from the Power of Satan to the Knowledge and Love of the Truth. … Lay no other foundation than that which is already laid … upon the Doctrine of Jesus Christ, and him crucified. … Let us all unite our most strenuous endeavors, that the Gospel of Jesus Christ may run and be glorified, till the earth be filled with the Knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.”
From 1789-2014, the 62 Senate Chaplains have been Christian:
- Episcopalian – 19
- Methodist – 17
- Presbyterian – 14
- Baptist – 6
- Unitarian – 2
- Congregational – 1
- Lutheran – 1
- Catholic – 1
- Seventh-day Adventist – 1
Occasionally members of other faiths have been invited to offer prayers.
The U.S. Senate Chaplain after World War II was Peter Marshall, who prayed: “Our liberty is under God and can be found nowhere else. May our faith be not merely stamped upon our coins, but expressed in our lives.”
Peter Marshall’s son, Peter Marshall Jr., together with David Manuel, wrote the best-selling book “The Light and the Glory,” which traced the hand of Providence in the founding of America.
The Senate Chaplain and the House Chaplain together oversee the Capitol Prayer Room, located near the U.S. Capitol Rotunda. At its dedication in 1955, Speaker Sam Rayburn stated that the Capitol Prayer Room was for members: “who want to be alone with their God.”
On Feb. 7, 1984, President Reagan addressed the National Association of Secondary School Principals: “God … should never have been expelled from America’s schools. As we struggle to teach our children … we dare not forget that our civilization was built by men and women who placed their faith in a loving God. If Congress can begin each day with a moment of prayer … so then can our sons and daughters.”
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