U.S. Senate Chaplain Barry Black


BOB ABERNETHY, anchor: For more than 200 years there has been a chaplain in both the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate. The tradition has been challenged by advocates of a strict separation between church and state, but the Supreme Court has upheld it, as long as the chaplains remain nonsectarian and nonpartisan. The current Senate chaplain is the Reverend Barry Black, the first African American and the first Seventh-day Adventist in the position. Kim Lawton reports.

Pastor BARRY BLACK (Chaplain, U.S. Senate): Let us pray. Let us pray.

KIM LAWTON: He has prayed with some of the most powerful people in the world. Chaplain Barry Black opens every session of the U.S. Senate with prayer and is often called upon to pray at important national events. It’s not mere ceremony, he says, but helping to set the spiritual tone of the country.


Chaplain BLACK (speaking at National Day of Prayer): More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.

Chaplain BLACK: I see myself as an intercessor. I see myself as articulating the longings and the concerns of the people whom I seek to minister to.

LAWTON: It’s a job that’s strictly nonpartisan and nonsectarian. As the 62nd chaplain of the U.S. Senate, Black not only ministers to senators and their families, but also to Capitol Hill staffers, service personnel, and police. He organizes many weekly Bible studies and offers private counseling.

Chaplain BLACK: As their pastor, I am interested in their spiritual well-being.

LAWTON: Fifty-eight-year-old Black is the first African American and the first Seventh-day Adventist in the position. He’s been there since 2003, but says he still marvels that this is where he’s landed, especially considering his background growing up in the housing projects of inner city Baltimore.

Chaplain BLACK (speaking to students at Andrews University): Night after night, the “hood” is a subculture of poverty and pathology. Domestic violence is a spectator sport. You can sit on your stoop and watch it.

LAWTON: In his book FROM THE HOOD TO THE HILL, Black vividly describes his youth: a rat- and roach-infested apartment; an alcoholic absentee father; and a struggling welfare mother often taking her eight children to church hungry.

Chaplain BLACK (speaking at book signing event): We were like hostages. When people would shake our hands and say “The Lord is good”—because my mother warned us you better not let anybody know you’re hungry—we were trying to let people signal, trying to let them know we’re captives. Somebody feed us, feed us, feed us.


LAWTON: Black says his mother’s strong Seventh-day Adventist faith was hugely influential.

Chaplain BLACK: My mother was baptized when she was pregnant with me, and as she entered the—we say “the watery grave of baptism” (Seventh-day Adventists immerse), she prayed for a special anointing on her unborn child.

LAWTON: The chaplain’s lifelong friend, Purnell Jones, says Pearline Black never let anyone forget that.

PASTOR PURNELL JONES : When Barry was in the womb she would always say, “I prayed for my son and that the Lord would anoint him.” When Barry came out, he was special. He was just special.

LAWTON: Berea Temple Seventh Day Adventist Church in Baltimore became an anchor for the family. Adventists are part of the evangelical tradition. They place a strong emphasis on Scripture, keeping Saturday as the Sabbath and often following Old Testament dietary laws. Black and his family came here virtually every Saturday.

Chaplain BLACK (to worship service): Because my father was not around a great deal, to have wonderful, positive male role models in the church was a tremendous blessing and made a critical difference in my development.

LAWTON: Berea encouraged Christian education and Bible memorization, something Black’s mother reinforced at home.

Chaplain BLACK: My mother gave my siblings and me our allowance based upon memorizing Scripture—a nickel a verse.

(speaking to students at Andrews University): One day I came in—you would stand before her to give your Scripture—and I said, “The Book of Genesis.” She said, “Hold it, hold it, hold it, hold it, hold it!” She put me on a flat rate. “You’re not going to get more than a quarter even if you memorize the whole Bible, boy.”

LAWTON: Purnell Jones is now an elder at Berea. He says as a kid, Black also had a gift for memorizing sermons and imitating pastors.


Mr. JONES: Barry’s mom had them take notes. So some of us got in the habit that we would even try to keep up with note-taking and see how much we remembered. Then we’d get outside, and there’s Barry, “blah-blah-blah,” just spieling it off, the whole sermon, and we’d say, “How in the world did he remember all this stuff?”

LAWTON: Today, Black loves to tell the story of when he was eight-years-old and his mother brought home a record with sermons by Peter Marshall, who was Senate chaplain from 1947 to 1949. Black says he listened to that record over and over again and learned the sermons by heart, accent and all.

Chaplain BLACK (speaking to students at Andrews University, imitating Marshall): “There were the aged, stooped with years, muttering to themselves as they pushed through the throng…”

LAWTON: As Black puts it, only God could have orchestrated events so that he would one day follow in Marshall’s footsteps.

Chaplain BLACK (speaking at Crystal Cathedral): God set in motion a sequence of events that let that little eight-year-old go from the hood to the Hill. So what a mighty God we serve.

LAWTON: Black went to Seventh-day Adventist schools, including Andrews University in Michigan. He eventually earned three masters degrees and two doctorates. He’s married with three sons. Soon after seminary, Black learned that the Adventists needed military chaplains, so he joined the Navy. He rose to the rank of rear admiral and was the first African American to be named chief of Navy chaplains. Black says he experienced some discrimination along the way, but he never let himself dwell on race.

Chaplain BLACK: I was determined to create a resumé that would transcend race, and I wanted an individual on a promotion board who may have even been socialized to think of me as inferior to look at my paper and basically say, “We’ve got a problem if we’re going to stop this guy.”

LAWTON: There’s been a chaplain in the House and Senate since 1789. Some argue that violates the separation of church and state, but Black insists it is constitutional. Although Seventh-day Adventists actively spread their faith, Black says he’s well aware of boundaries in his job.


Chaplain BLACK: Having been a military chaplain in a pluralistic setting of religious diversity for 27 years, I am very, very comfortable with an environment where I am encouraged to support but not to proselytize.

LAWTON: He says he gets a front-row seat to history, and he’s been called on during times of national mourning, such as when Senator Edward Kennedy asked him to officiate during the at-sea burial of John F. Kennedy Jr. Senators come to him for counseling and advice, sometimes even on policy matters.

Chaplain BLACK: There are issues—biomedical ethical issues and issues of justice—that they are interested in: “Chaplain, what is your spin on this particular issue?” So I can tell them what I think, and of course they can use it however they desire.

LAWTON: It’s a lot of responsibility, and Black acknowledges that he must be on his guard to avoid becoming overly-impressed with the power. He says he works hard to maintain his moral authority.

Chaplain BLACK: Once people no longer perceive that you are the real deal, your power is gone. So keeping Chaplain Barry Black in the straight and narrow, ensuring that I don’t deviate from the path of unswerving integrity—that is my greatest challenge.

LAWTON: Black tries to keep his spiritual life on track by staying in regular conversation with God.

Chaplain BLACK (appearing on the Hope Channel): If you want to faithfully interpret the word of God, start praying the Scripture. It will energize your prayer life.

LAWTON: He prays with his well-used Bible open in front of him.

Chaplain BLACK: When you pray before an open Bible, you give God the courtesy of starting the conversation. And so I will open the Bible and I will read until something stops me, something impresses me, something warms my heart. And then I’ll talk to God about it.

LAWTON: Being Senate chaplain gives Black a lot to talk with God about. He often writes his prayers while looking out the window in his office—an everyday inspiration, he says, to pray for the nation.

  • Ryan O’Neil Seaton

    Wow! This is an amazing Blog (article and video).

    Kudos to Kim Lawton. Dr. Barry Black is a remarkably insightful, diligent and forthright man of faith.

  • Susan Drown

    This was indeed a wonderful blog! Recently I was praying for our president and nation and prayed that God would place such a man as Chaplain Black on Capital Hill and that he would be available to our president. Promoting his book Chaplain Black was a guest tonight on the television network TBN. I felt like my prayer was already answered, long before I prayed, as God had already placed such a man in office some time ago, Chaplain Black. I was so encouraged after Chaplain Black’s interview that I looked on the internet to learn more about him, that is how I found this site. Thank you, this blog was as wonderful as his live interview. I am so happy that he is the Chaplain on Capital Hill.

  • Weylin Wendt

    Our nation is so blessed to have Chaplain Black as God’s voice in the Senate. I knew him years ago when he was a Captain and I was a deacon and Bible Study teacher in Norfolk, VA. He and his wife Brenda would come to my class and he would graciously give his views and Biblical ideas with complete humility. He invited me to dinner and we had wonderful conversations and I learned so much from him and was so enriched. May God bless him and Brenda as he continues to serve our Lord in such a powerful way.

  • Kevin Oliveira

    I loved the book. It was very inspirational and insightful. Chaplain Black has personally overcome alot of the visible and invisible barriers in place to hinder people. Thank God who always causes us to triumph through Christ jesus!

  • michael brown

    What an inspirational story. Chaplain Black is such a powerful influence. I watch the interview he had on c-span with Brian Lamb, it was such a wonderful story. May God bless Mr. Black

  • Randall Gunn

    Would like e-mail address for Rev Barry Black for prayer request. Thank you.


    Years ago while searving a prison sentence former u.s. senate chaplain Richard C. Halverson sent me a personal letter and signed. He sent a fire through me that i had a remarkable future. Today at age 48 iam a speaker to different groups of people. God has raised me up to reach out to broken down people and those that have let go of their dreams. NOTE: What God has done for Chaplain Black he can do for you. Did you know that the top CEO’s in america are people who are Visionaries! they are individuals that can see 10 years in the future and work their way back. but most only work their way back! let’s change our future by changing our minds.

  • Kireese Prime

    I would just like to say as a youth of 17 yrs that I am truly and deeply touched by the work of Chaplain Barry Black. God has indeed used Him and this has really inspired and motivated me even more to reach onward and upward for greater things. I know that this journey would not be easy and I also know that my mind must be focused on God so that He can fully use me so that His name would be magnified. I understand when you live for Christ life is seen in a different light, filled with passion and purpose and that is what I long for.

  • John Underwood

    My wife and I were inspired by your sermon “When God is Silent” that you gave on the “Hour of Power”. We watched it on July 3rd, 2010. Is it possible we can have a copy of this sermon? We would appreciate it very much. Thanks for the work you do.

  • Monkgogi Nthubu

    I believe the Lord is using and you allowed Him to use you. Your sermons have inspired me and I learnt that I should always tell God my desires and if it is according to His word, He will do at His own time. I worked as a teacher for lamost 6 years and am now doing theology at Newbold college ((UK), planning to go to Oakwood university.

    Monkgogi Nthubu


    Years ago I received a personal letter from the late Richard C. Haverson, Chaplain of the United States Senate.
    This all Important man took the time to personally address my letter and write me back, and today, that letter is framed on my wall.

    On March 24, 2011, I was again at the forefront of a great American Man. I spoke briefly with Joseph P. Kennedy III.
    Joe Kennedy is the Grandson of the late former U.S. Attorney General, Robert Kennedy. At the close of our talk I informed Mr. Kennedy that I would be praying for him and he thanked me.

    Today I will stand in the gap as I pray for our present Chaplain of the United States Senate, Barry Black.

    Evangelist Mike Keatts

  • Jim Stroud

    Dear Brother in CHRIST,
    with great joy i watched your message on sunday 7/2/2011, May the mighty GOD give you the opportunites to council those who are placed in the positions or directorship, I Pray his blessing of health upon you and your ministry, You will be in my prayers as i so enjoyed your message.

  • Donna McBride

    Dr. Black shines with spiritualality. His mother was right. He IS special! My husband was a Dr. of Min. and came to the place where he couldn’t take it anymore. It’s sad, but I respect his decision. He is such a wonderful speaker. He has led alot of people to Christ, also. I wish people would give their ministers the respect they deserve.

  • Jim Wilaon

    Dear Brother:
    Thank you for reminding me that I am free indeed. I thank God for your Godly mother and for
    her guidance in your life and the lives of your siblings. Keep on preaching Christ and Him crucified and
    baptism for remission of sins and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

    I thank God that I had the opportunity to hear your message. God bless your efforts
    to touch the lives of those who are not free.

    Jim Wilson

  • Al

    I watched Chaplain Black on InTouch.Org on 7-3-11, and listening to him was quite moving.

  • Pastor Johnny L Wright

    I have heard Chaplain Black on numerous radio programs. He is a dynamic man of God. I came across this interview while I was searching for contract information for Office of Senate Chaplain. Does anyone have information how would go about contacting that office.

    Grace be with you

  • John Conway

    how do I get Barry Black’s e-mail address?

  • William George

    I viewed the Independence Day sermon by him on being free and it was excellent. Can I purchase A video by him on prophecy? {Onegood example is chapter 24 of Matt’}


    I have just viewed Senator Black’s profile once more on FNC with Chris Wallace. I am glad that his presence on Capitol Hill is no longer a state secret. What a fine and wonderful man, who is setting an example of all that is good about America. Thank you for standing up for faith based issues, in such a caring and dignified manner, and apparently with a first rate sense of humor to boot. God had blessed us indeed!

  • Edwin Galan

    I met Pastor Black (then CDR Black) when I was a young LT (O-3) in the Navy, and he graciously would help orient me to adhere to integrity & focus on “service” while still leading by example. Our paths crossed a few times in other parts of our great Nation while still in the Navy. Undoubtedly, I was proud to say I’d met & known him, because many officers & his fellow Chaplains recognized early in his career what a great spirit of serving others for God, then rested with Rear Admiral Black. The rough times would try to beset all of us (officers or enlisted alike) during wars, disasters and many a crisis. His example of faith undoubtedly has helped many a sailor, soldier, marine & airman. We as a Nation can be sure & proud Americans to have him serve us now through his work in Capitol Hill.

  • Rev Mike Keatts

    As Christian Men and Women, we are called to pray for our nation, but many times we only complain about what needs to be done. We gossip and Point fingers. We declare that we need another president. We don’t need another president . We just need to pray for the one we have.

    Years ago, Dr. Richard C. Halverson, the Chaplain of the United States Senate took the time to send me a personal letter. I was just a prisoner. According to society, I would never amount to very much in life. But with God all things are possible. Today at 50, I’m married to a wonderful christian lady and have a great teenage step-son. Since being out of prison I have spoken in churches and on the radio. Iam the President and Founder of Global Outreach, a ministry that reaches out to broken people. God has taken me far and what he has done for me he will do for you.

    We can change our nation not with wishing that things will become better, but by getting down on our knees and making them better.

    Rev. Mike Keatts
    Global Outreach

  • Diego Duran A.

    Barry Black.
    Buenas noches
    Hoy lo vi en Hope Chanel,Ud. hablo de la integridad y fue maravilloso
    su tecnica didactica y la fuerza del Espiritu Santo en su vida, su esfuerzo
    lo mantiene en lo mas alto…Gloria a Dios.

  • Brenda Besch

    I first heard Chaplain Black on Dr. Charles Stanley’s In Touch Ministries. What a powerful speaker. Can’t wait to learn more about him and read his book. How blessed our Senate is to have this man as their Chaplain.

  • Rev. Dr. Gilbert Morgan, Sr.

    I am pastor of the Community AME Church of Ecorse, Michigan. We understand that the Senate Chaplain will be in the Detroit area on May 13, 2012 preaching at the Community Congregational Church in Lathrup Village.

    We would love to have Chaplain Barry Black, preach at the Community AME church at the most convenient hour for him at our church on that same day. Please contact Pastor Gilbert Morgan at Pastorgilbert9054@att.net or telephone him at (248) 747-2121. We would be honored.

    Warmest Regards,

    Pastor Gilbert Morgan

  • skeptic

    As a non-theistic taxpayer, I do not support the position of a chaplain.
    There is no evidence for a god and no evidence for the efficacy of prayer (and the STEP trials showed a trend toward more complications if patients knew they were prayed for).
    It’s time to get into the 21st century and put away the superstition, magical thinking, Bronze Age mythology, and infantile “need” for a sky daddy as well as put away the futile practice of trying to invoke intervention by an imaginary friend in the sky.
    In Reason I Trust (not an imaginary friend in the sky)

  • Maggi Valenzuela

    Mr.Black, you are an inspiration to all of us. I listen to your program on Hope Channel every saturday.

    God bless you and your family


    Through the power of my God, I have made a unique Art-Document proclaiming the GREAT (sleeping) COMMISSION, ordained to us by our Creator.
    For there are many Christians, but few Childs of God. Which are you? ROMANS 8
    I would like to send Brother Barry Black a free copy in canvas.
    Please send me his address