Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Senate Begins

On April 6, 1789, the United States Senate began. Its first tasks were to organize its own rules for operating (how it would discuss, debate, and vote), to hire a secretary, and to hire a chaplain.

In the spirit of the "separation of church and state," the senate would not seek spiritual guidance from any church, but rather have its own chaplain, who would preach and pray with senate directly from the New Testament, and not from any church's tradition.

Until a chaplain could be elected, the senators took turns praying and reading from the Bible at the beginning of each day's meeting.

After discussion, and after considering several candidates, Samuel Provoost was elected as the first chaplain of the senate on April 25. Since that day, every daily session of the senate has begun with the chaplain's prayers and Bible readings.

Sixty-two different people have held the job; they have come from a variety of religious backgrounds (Lutheran, Episcopalian, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, Congregationalist, Roman Catholic, Seventh Day Adventist, etc.), but each has had to renounce her or his affiliation to a church, so that the "separation of church and state" could continue. In fact, some of the founding fathers boasted that, with this separation, the U.S. government could more more Christian than the church, because the chaplains, once they had taken office, could not identify themselves as part of this or that church, but merely as Christians.

This year (2010), the senate's chaplain is Barry C. Black, from Baltimore. He is the nation's first African-American senate chaplain.