Senate Gets Religion

Posted June 17, 2003 at 6:42pm

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) named Navy Rear Adm. Barry Black to be the Senate’s new chaplain on Tuesday, marking the first time an African-American has been selected as the chamber’s chief spiritual adviser.

Black, a Seventh-day Adventist, currently works as chief of chaplains for the Navy, where he serves as a religious adviser to the top brass in the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.

“I look forward to this great opportunity and challenge and I am grateful to the Senators already, because they certainly have made me feel at home,” Black told reporters on Tuesday.

Black said he plans to retire from the Navy in the next “few days.”

“I will not be holding two jobs at the same time,” said Black, a 27-year Navy veteran.

Frist said he expects Black to be in his post by the Fourth of July recess.

“Admiral Black has led truly an inspiring life,” Frist said. “And I am honored he will now bring his uplifting message to the United States Senate each and every day.”

Black replaces retired Senate chaplain Lloyd Ogilvie, who stepped down in March to care for his ailing wife, Mary Jane, who later died.

Ogilvie’s departure triggered a nationwide search for a replacement, which was temporarily put on hold this spring when Senators tried to coax him to return to his job after his wife passed away. Ogilvie declined the offer, opening the door for the bipartisan Senate search committee to recommend and Frist to make the final call for the Baltimore, Md., native to succeed Ogilvie.

“Our Caucus had an opportunity to meet him and to hear him today, and I can say without equivocation that he is going to be warmly received,” Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said following the Democratic Caucus’ weekly meeting. “And we look forward to having the same wonderful relationship … that we had with Dr. Ogilvie as we anticipate his chaplaincy.”

Black’s main responsibilities will be to open the Senate each day with a prayer as well as minister to the religious needs of Senators, aides and their families and host Bible study sessions. The chaplain’s position is funded at a salary level of $130,000 a year.

Black, who will become the 62nd chaplain when the Senate formalizes his appointment later this month, is the first Seventh-day Adventist to serve in the post. The denomination traces its roots back to the mid-1800s when William Miller — a Baptist preacher and Army captain in the War of 1812 — launched the “great second advent awakening, which eventually spread throughout most of the Christian world,” according to the church’s official Web site. The church claims a following of 8 million individuals worldwide.

Even though he acknowledged that he would now be ministering to a different flock, Black suggested his experience in the Navy working with a diverse group of individuals should help him perform his new duties in the Senate.

“In the military I provided ministry in a pluralistic setting of religious diversity,” he said. “I will be doing the same thing in the Senate. In the military I had an advisory function to the secretary of the Navy, the chief of naval operations, the commandant of the Marine Corps and Coast Guard … senior leaders who had weighty decisions to make and, obviously, in the Senate I will be providing ministry in a similar way.

“So, I see more similarities in the ministry,” he added.

Black enlisted in the Navy in 1976, after working for three years as a “circuit-riding pastor and evangelist of 11 churches,” according to his resume. Over the next 27 years, Black climbed the ranks and, as he is about to do in the Senate, broke the color barrier in the Navy. The admiral is the first black individual to serve as the Navy’s chief of chaplains, a position he assumed in 2000.

During his Navy service, Black participated in high-profile events such as the 2001 and 2002 National Pentagon 9/11 Memorial Services and John F. Kennedy Jr.’s burial at sea in July 1999.

Even though Republicans have been under pressure for the past five months to hire more blacks to high-ranking positions, Frist said the admiral’s race had nothing to do with his selection. The Majority Leader pointed to the bipartisan search committee as the first step in vetting potential chaplain candidates and said the final decision was based solely on Black’s qualifications.

“That advisory committee gave me a slate of candidates to choose from … and [I was] delighted, based on my review and my personal discussion, as I look to what being a chaplain in the United States Senate to be all about, to choose Admiral Black.”