The chaplain of the United States Senate is an Adventist.
Barry C. Black rarely makes headlines. But every day he rubs shoulders with those who do.
Barry Black is chaplain of the United State Senate, a position he has held since July 7, 2003. In that role Black offers the invocation each day as the Senate begins its deliberations. He is the first African American and the first Seventh-day Adventist to hold that position.
In addition to his formal role of offering the invocation before each day’s senate deliberations, Black oversees the spiritual care for the senators, their families, and their staffs, a constituency of approximately 6,000 people. He also coordinates Bible study groups in the Senate and presides over the weekly Senate prayer breakfast. In 2017 he was keynote speaker at the National Prayer Breakfast.
Before being selected to serve as chaplain of the United States Senate, Black served as a United States Navy chaplain, rising to the rank of rear admiral. He was chief of Navy chaplains when he retired.
Black was born in Baltimore, Maryland, United States, one of eight children. He credits his mother as being one of the primary influences in his life, making sure that each of her eight children received a Christian education from first grade to graduate school. Commenting on this experience, Black said, “To pull this off, many times she couldn’t pay the rent. And when you can’t pay the rent, you are evicted. So three times in my life I came home from my nice Christian school to find our furniture out on the street.”
Black is known for committing to memory large portions of Scripture, a habit he developed as a child when his mother promised to give him five cents for every Bible verse he memorized.
As chaplain of the Senate, Black has participated in presidential inaugurations, many state events, and is often an eyewitness to the historical debates of the United States in the twenty-first century. During the federal government shutdown in 2013 his invocations attracted national attention, as when he prayed: “Strengthen our weakness, replacing cynicism with faith and cowardice with courage.”
Three weeks into the government shutdown that had national implications, Black’s prayer included words that recognized the significant issues at stake, and challenged members of the Senate to do their duty: “O God, our way, our truth, and our life, we worship You. Quicken our consciences by Your holiness, that we will find nourishment in Your truth. As this partial government shutdown grinds on, help our lawmakers to open their hearts to Your love and to surrender their desires to Your purposes. In this tangled world we are conscious of our woeful inadequacies to sit in the seats of judgment, to balance the scales of justice, and to respond with equity to the myriad calls of human needs. We need You, Eternal God, to crown our deliberations with Your wisdom and with spacious thinking to fit these challenging days. We pray in Your strong name, amen.”
Black has written four books, including his autobiography, From the Hood to the Hill.