On Friday morning, one day after Capitol Police working without pay shot a woman driving dangerously outside Senate offices, the Chaplain of the Senate came to the floor with a prayer. “May we go beyond applause in expressing our gratitude, but make decisions that will ensure their timely and fair compensation,” said Barry Black. “Remove from [the Senators] that stubborn pride which imagines itself to be above and beyond criticism. Forgive them for the blunders they have committed, infusing them with the courage to admit and correct mistakes. Amen.”
It was not the first time that Black had used his morning benediction to discuss the issues of the day, nor would it be the last. He has led the Senate the past 10 years in morning prayer, addressing a flock which would leave any pastor frustrated. Before his eyes, senators bicker and quarrel and sometimes steal the spotlight of the C-SPAN cameras to gain public notoriety to the detriment of the country they represent.
In the days before and during the government shutdown, the first time Congress has done so in seventeen years, Black’s prayers have coalesced with the nation’s wishes. “Lord lead them away from the unfortunate dialectic of us versus them, as they strive to unite for the common good of this land we love,” prayed Black the morning before the shutdown on September 30. “Let them not be content to wait and see what will happen, but give them the determination to make the right things happen.”
The Senate has elected a Chaplain since 1789 to serve as pastor, deliver opening prayers and presiding at funerals and memorial services for departed members. Since the founding of the country, the position of chaplain has been hotly debated, and even the current chaplain, a retired navy rear admiral, has had to turn away some events that were seen as too political, including a controversial inaugural prayer breakfast hosted this year by conservative televangelist Pat Robertson.
The recent government shutdown has been a topic of Black’s prayers. By the end of the week, Black’s tone had turned much more confrontational. “Have mercy upon us, O God” prayed Black Thursday morning, “And save us from the madness.”
“Deliver us from the hypocrisy of attempting to sound reasonable while being unreasonable,” he went on. “Remove the burdens of those who are the collateral damage of this government shutdown, transforming negatives into positives as you work for the good of those who love youOn Friday TIME asked Black what his message is during the shutdown crisis. “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin will destroy any people,” Chaplain Black emailed TIME.
After his time as Chief of Navy Chaplains, Black became the 62nd Chaplain of the Senate by unanimous consent in the summer of 2003. He writes his prayers in his office, car, home and while jogging. He and wife Brenda are fond of alliteration—their sons are Barry II, Brendan, and Bradford.
Despite hosting a weekly prayer lunch, Black isn’t a fan of the meal. “Lunch is for chumps,” Black told TIME, referencing an old Navy phrase he learned during his 27 years there. He calls the legislative process “challenging” but “often quite predictable.” He calls prayer, “a conversation with God, so it simply involves me interceding on behalf of our lawmakers.”