Chaplains of The United States Senate - History


Shortly after the Senate first convened in April 1789 in New York City, one of its "first orders of business" was to convene a committee to recommend a Chaplain, selecting the Right Reverend Samuel Provoost, Episcopal Bishop of New York. When the Senate moved to Philadelphia the next year, the Right Reverend William White, that city's Episcopal bishop was selected. In 1800, when the Senate relocated to Washington, D.C., clergymen from various Christian denominations ("mainline Protestant denominations--usually Episcopalians or Presbyterians") continued to be selected, delivering prayers and presiding at funerals and memorial services.

During this early period, Chaplains "typically served" for less than a year while concurrently serving in non-congressional positions. Also, early Senate and House Chaplains, although elected separately by their respected chambers, shared Congressional responsibilities by alternating service in the House and Senate on a weekly basis, also conducting Sunday worship for the Washington, D.C. community in the House Chamber on an alternating basis. Clergymen have served in the official position of Senate Chaplain for all years since the office was created except for the brief period of 1857-1859. In 1914, the Senate began adding the Chaplain's prayer to the Congressional Record.

The Chaplain of the United States Senate became a full time position in the middle of the 20th century.

According to a Senate Historical Office review of the records concerning guest chaplains, it was in 1965 that James Kirkland became the first African-American to open the Senate with prayer. In 1971 Wilmina Rowland became the first woman to do so. Wallace Mohammed was the first Muslim to do so in 1992, and Rajan Zed was the first Hindu to say the opening prayer for the Senate in 2007.

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