Skip Content
U.S. Flag

About the Senate Chaplain

The chaplain is an elected officer of the U.S. Senate. In addition to opening daily sessions with a prayer, the chaplain is available to provide spiritual counseling and guidance to members and staff. The chaplain meets with senators, assists Senate staff with research on theological and biblical questions, and holds a weekly Senate Prayer Breakfast. The Office of the Chaplain is nonpartisan, nonpolitical, and nonsectarian. To date, all Senate chaplains have been of Christian denomination, while guest chaplains have represented many of the world's major religious faiths.

When the Senate first convened in New York City on April 6, 1789, one of its first orders of business was to appoint a committee to recommend a candidate for chaplain. On April 25, the Senate elected the Right Reverend Samuel Provoost, Episcopal Bishop of New York, as its first chaplain. Provoost served as the Senate’s chaplain until Congress moved to Philadelphia in the winter of 1790. Reverend William White, the first Episcopal Bishop of Pennsylvania, served as chaplain until Congress established its permanent home in Washington, D.C., in 1800.

The Senate regularly elected chaplains until 1857, but competition among senators to have their preferred clergyman fill the post prompted a temporary change in procedure. Following the lead of the House of Representatives, the Senate began inviting local clergy to conduct opening prayers and preach the sermon at Sunday services, which they did without pay.

Two years later, the Senate opted to once again elect a chaplain as a full-time officer of the Senate. As Senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts explained, “The plan [of rotating clergy] is a very poor substitute for the former plan of having a Chaplain of the body, to whom we can look and consider as such; a Chaplain who would become acquainted with us, and who would know the interests and wants of the body.” Since that time, the Senate has continued the tradition of electing a full-time chaplain.

NameDenominationDate of AppointmentNote
Samuel Provoost, D.D.Episcopalian17890425Apr 25, 1789First Bishop of New York
William White, D.D.Episcopalian17901209Dec 9, 1790First Bishop of Pennsylvania
Thomas John Claggett, S.T.D., D.D.Episcopalian18001127Nov 27, 1800First Bishop of Maryland
Edward Gantt, M.D.Episcopalian18011209Dec 9, 1801
Alexander Thomas McCormickEpiscopalian18041107Nov 7, 1804
Edward Gantt, M.D.Episcopalian18051204Dec 4, 1805
John Johnson SayrsEpiscopalian18061203Dec 3, 1806
A.T. McCormickEpiscopalian18071110Nov 10, 1807On October 29, 1807, Edward Gantt was elected but declined to serve.
Robert ElliottPresbyterian18081110Nov 10, 1808
James Jones WilmerEpiscopalian18090524May 24, 1809
Obadiah Bruen BrownBaptist18091205Dec 5, 1809
Walter Dulaney AddisonEpiscopalian18101212Dec 12, 1810
John Brackenridge, D.D.Presbyterian18111113Nov 13, 1811
Jesse LeeMethodist18140927Sep 27, 1814
John GlendyPresbyterian18151208Dec 8, 1815On December 6, 1816, John Glendie was elected but declined to serve.
Sereno Edward Dwight, D.D.Congregationalist18161216Dec 16, 1816
William Dickinson HawleyEpiscopalian18171209Dec 9, 1817
John ClarkPresbyterian18181119Nov 19, 1818
Reuben Post, D.D.Presbyterian18191209Dec 9, 1819
William RylandMethodist18201117Nov 17, 1820
Charles Petit McIlvaine, D.D., LL.D., D.C.L.Episcopalian18221209Dec 9, 1822
William Staughton, D.D.Baptist18231210Dec 10, 1823
Charles Petit McIlvaine, D.D., LL.D., D.C.L.Episcopalian18241214Dec 14, 1824
William Staughton, D.D.Baptist18251212Dec 12, 1825
William RylandMethodist18261208Dec 8, 1826
Henry Van Dyke Johns, D.D.Episcopalian18291214Dec 14, 1829
John Price Durbin, D.D., LL.D.Methodist18311219Dec 19, 1831
Charles Constantine Pise, D.D.Roman Catholic18321211Dec 11, 1832
Frederick Winslow Hatch, D.D.Episcopalian18331210Dec 10, 1833
Edward Young Higbee, D.D.Episcopalian18351223Dec 23, 1835
John Reinhard GoodmanEpiscopalian18361228Dec 28, 1836
Henry SlicerMethodist18370911Sep 11, 1837
George Grimston CookmanMethodist18391231Dec 31, 1839
Septimus Tustin, D.D.Presbyterian18410612Jun 12, 1841
Henry SlicerMethodist18461216Dec 16, 1846
Clement Moore Butler, D.D.Episcopalian18500109Jan 9, 1850There being a tie vote (30 for Henry Slicer and 30 for C.M. Butler), Vice President Millard Fillmore voted for C.M. Butler and broke the tie.
Henry SlicerMethodist18531207Dec 7, 1853
Henry Clay DeanMethodist18551204Dec 4, 1855
Stephen P. Hill, D.D.Baptist18561208Dec 8, 1856
Phineas Densmore Gurley, D.D.Presbyterian18591215Dec 15, 1859
Byron Sunderland, D.D.Presbyterian18610710Jul 10, 1861
Thomas Bowman, LL.D.Methodist18640511May 11, 1864
Edgar Harkness Gray, D.D.Baptist18650309Mar 9, 1865
John Philip Newman, D.D.Methodist18690308Mar 8, 1869
Byron Sunderland, D.D.Presbyterian18731208Dec 8, 1873
Joseph J. Bullock, D.D.Presbyterian18790324Mar 24, 1879
Elias DeWitt Huntley, D.D., LL.D.Methodist18831218Dec 18, 1883
John George Butler, D.D., LL.D.Lutheran18860315Mar 15, 1886
William Henry Milburn, D.D.Methodist18930406Apr 6, 1893W.H. Milburn resigned, because of ill health, on December 2, 1902, his resignation to take effect when the Senate elected a new chaplain. His letter stated that a friend would take his place until that time and from the records it would appear that F. J. Prettyman was the "friend." W.H. Milburn is listed as the official Senate chaplain until the election of F.J. Prettyman on November 23, 1903.
F.J. Prettyman, D.D.Methodist19031123Nov 23, 1903
Edward Everett Hale, D.D., LL.D.Unitarian19031214Dec 14, 1903Died in office on June 10, 1909.
Ulysses Grant Baker Pierce, D.D., Ph.D.Unitarian19090618Jun 18, 1909
F. J. Prettyman, D.D.Methodist19130313Mar 13, 1913
Joseph Johnstone Muir, D.D.Baptist19210121Jan 21, 1921
ZeBarney Thorne Phillips, D.D., LL.D., Litt.D.Episcopalian19271205Dec 5, 1927Died in office on May 10, 1942.
Frederick Brown Harris, D.D., LL.D., Litt.D.Methodist19421010Oct 10, 1942
Peter Marshall, D.D.Presbyterian19470104Jan 4, 1947Died in office on January 24, 1949.
Frederick Brown Harris, D.D., LL.D., Litt.D.Methodist19490203Feb 3, 1949
Edward L.R. Elson, D.D., S.T.D., Litt.D., LL.D., L.H.D., D.Hum., D.Min.Presbyterian19690109Jan 9, 1969
Richard C. Halverson, D.D., LL.D.Presbyterian19810202February 2, 1981
Lloyd John Ogilvie, D.D.Presbyterian19950311Mar 11, 1995
Barry C. Black, Ph.D., D. Min., D.D.Seventh-day Adventist20030707July 7, 2003

The 35th Congress (1857-1859) discontinued the custom of electing a Senate chaplain, and extended an invitation to the clergy of the District of Columbia to alternate in opening the daily sessions with prayer. The 36th Congress returned to the former practice.


Denomination Totals:

Episcopalian = 19
Methodist = 17
Presbyterian = 14
Baptist = 6
Unitarian = 2
Congregationalist = 1
Lutheran = 1
Roman Catholic = 1
Seventh-day Adventist = 1

Total: 62

Return to Officers & Staff