July 20, 2023

Barry C. Black Completes 20 Years as U.S. Senate Chaplain

He is the first African American and Seventh-day Adventist to hold the post.

Marcos Paseggi, Adventist Review
U.S. Senate chaplain Barry C. Black addresses then President Donald Trump and American political and civic leaders during the 65th National Prayer Breakfast in 2017. [Photo: screenshot by Adventist Review]

Barry C. Black recently completed 20 years as chaplain of the United States Senate in Washington, D.C. Black, who will turn 75 this year, arrived at that position after an extensive career as Navy chaplain. Black is the first military chaplain, the first Seventh-day Adventist, and the first African American to hold the office of chaplain to the U.S. Senate.

As part of his duties, Black opens every session of the Senate with prayer, asking God to give legislators wisdom. In his role, he emphasizes, he is not a respecter of persons or political agendas.

“I think I am nonpartisan,” Black shared in a recent interview with journalist Mark A. Kellner for The Washington Times. “With the lawmakers, I’m not expected to put my mind in neutral and not express my opinion about various issues. So, I’m able to do that and share with them, and I love the opportunity to participate in the great conversation.”

In 2017, Black addressed then President Donald J. Trump and a room filled with American political and civic leaders as well as international leaders, including King Abdullah II of Jordan, during the 65th National Prayer Breakfast.

During his prayer breakfast keynote, which was broadcast nationally on television, Black mentioned the kind of relationship God wants to have with those who approach Him in prayer, citing Jesus’ words to His disciples in John 15:16, “I no longer call you My servants, I call you My friends” (paraphrased).

Black is the second Seventh-day Adventist to keynote the breakfast, after former neurosurgeon and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Benjamin S. Carson Sr. addressed the breakfast twice, the most recent time in 2013.

Black is also a well-known author. Among his books is his autobiography, From the Hood to the Hill (Thomas Nelson, 2006), which tells his story of growing up to reach his current position.

In 2022, Black authored a children’s book titled, A Prayer for Our Country: Words to Unite and Inspire Hope (Zonderkidz). Illustrated by artist Kim Holt, the picture book for young readers celebrates the things that make the United States of America “an amazing place,” the publisher said.

“I believe one of the greatest blessings of my life was learning to pray,” Black said in a statement to Adventist Review around the time the book was published. “My mother and church members taught me by precepts and example how to make my spiritual whispering heard in heaven. My new book is an attempt to help this generation of children learn to harness prayer power as well.”

Perhaps one of his most remembered prayers at the U.S. Senate was in the early hours of January 7, 2021, a day after the incidents that affected the regular business of the body. In closing a momentous session, he called out the violence and implored warring factions to unite on behalf of the country.

“We deplore the desecration of the United States Capitol building, the shedding of innocent blood, the loss of life, and the quagmire of dysfunction that threaten our democracy,” The New York Times and other national outlets quoted that day. “These tragedies have reminded us that words matter, and that the power of life and death is in the tongue. We have been warned that eternal vigilance continues to be freedom’s price.”

His historical supplication ended with a special request. “Use us to bring healing and unity to our hurting and divided nation and world,” he prayed.