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Chaplain's Prayer

Prayer in the Senate Chamber
Senate Chaplain Zebarney Phillips opens the Senate session with a prayer, February 21, 1939. Senate Historical Office

New members to the Senate discover an enduring tradition in the chaplain's daily prayer. Soon after the Senate first convened in New York City in April 1789, it selected the local Episcopal bishop as its chaplain. Moving to Philadelphia the following year, senators again chose that city's Episcopal bishop. Arriving in Washington, D.C., in 1800, the Senate continued selecting clergymen from mainline Protestant denominations–usually Episcopalians or Presbyterians–to deliver opening prayers and to preside at funerals and memorial services for departed members. These chaplains typically served for less than a year and conducted their Senate duties along with their responsibilities as full-time leaders of nearby parishes. In 1914, the Senate began including the full text of its chaplain's prayer in the Congressional Record.

Since the mid-20th century, the Senate has continued to draw its chaplains from the leading Protestant denominations, but the post has become a full-time assignment, with its incumbents tending to serve for a decade or more. Sensitive to the increasing religious diversity of the nation, the Senate invites representatives of other faiths as guest chaplains.

The chaplain reinforces the notion of the Senate–its members and staff–as an extended ”family.” When a Senate ”family member” suffers the death of a loved one, or rejoices in the birth of a child, the chaplain may add an appropriate reference to the daily prayer. The chaplain also provides full-time pastoral care to members of the Senate community.

Baker, Richard A. The New Members' Guide to Traditions of the United States Senate.(Washington, GPO, 2006. S. Pub. 109-25), 14.


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