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On January 6, 2021, Senate Chaplain Dr. Barry Black spent several hours in an undisclosed location with many United States Senators as they took shelter from insurrectionists who had overrun the Capitol building. In the wee hours of January 7, the legislature reconvened to finish its work and Dr. Black closed with a prayer for the country: “Use us to bring healing and unity to our hurting and divided nation and world. Thank you for what you have blessed our lawmakers to accomplish in spite of threats to liberty.”
From that prayer came the book A Prayer for Our Country, an illustrated prayer published by Zonderkidz. Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with Rev. Dr. Black about the book, his nearly two-decade tenure as Senate Chaplain, and how he walks the line between serving God and empire. It’s a fascinating conversation you do not want to miss.
This excerpt may be lightly edited for clarity and conciseness.
I was in the Capitol on January 6, I watched the entire day unfold. I arrived at the Capitol at 7am on January 6 and I left the Capitol at 5am on January 7. During that time, I had an opportunity to spend nearly four hours with senators—90% of our senators—at an undisclosed location. I had an opportunity to pray with them, and to minister to them…The idea [for the book] came after that horrific experience on January 6. – Barry Black
Josh Olds: Prayer is something that is central to your ministry. I think it’s appropriate that your latest book is a children’s book is about prayer. How did the idea for this book—A Prayer for Our Country—come about?
Barry Black: I was in the Capitol on January 6, I watched the entire day unfold. I arrived at the Capitol at 7am on January 6 and I left the Capitol at 5am on January 7. During that time, I had an opportunity to spend nearly four hours with senators—90% of our senators—at an undisclosed location. I had an opportunity to pray with them, and to minister to them. And at the end of the day, Vice President Pence asked me to close the entire Senate session with a prayer. And in that prayer, I talked about what we had experienced that day, the shedding of innocent blood, the loss of life, the quagmire of dysfunction, the threats to a democratic process.
An editor from Zondervan—and no doubt an insomniac—was listening and watching and said to herself, “We need to help our children learn to pray for their country as this Chaplain is praying for our country.” I’ve always had a passion for children, my mother taught me how to pray. So I got a call from Zonderkidz asking me if I would be interested in doing something like that, and I was enthusiastically interested. And that’s how I ended up writing A Prayer for Our Country. One of the primary motivations was something Billy Graham once said, he said, “We are one generation away from agnosticism.” In other words, if we don’t teach our children, a way to connect with the transcendent, with God, we are one generation away from no memory of God’s mighty acts in our history. No George Washington in the snow of Valley Forge, no Benjamin Franklin at the Constitutional Convention, saying, “Scripture says, Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it. Psalm 127.” Oh, Franklin, at that same convention, quoting from the Sermon on the Mound, I believe he said, “I’m an old man. But I believe that if a sparrow cannot fall without God, knowing it, that a republic cannot rise without his aid. And so I believe we should pray about this.” And they invited in clergy after as you could expect it, interminable debate, they invited in a clergy person to begin to pray on a regular basis. So the idea of the conception came after that horrific experience on January 6, and then an opportunity offered me by one of the editors from Zondervan kids.
Josh Olds: You’re writing it for a children’s book context, but as I was reading it, you know, you can you can read it, and see what children will take from it. But you can also read it and see what adults can take from it as well. It’s not a children’s book. It is a book that is my children’s publisher, with this is, you know, it’s not a childish prayer. But it is a prayer. And I think we direct it toward children. And there’s this aura of hope, and the sense that that the next generation can do better.
This is what I am hoping: that these little themes in this primer will enable children to know this is how I talk to God in a conversational way. – Barry Black
Barry Black: Josh, it’s a primer for children, I think the ages—we’re looking at an age group of probably four to eight or nine. And it’s trying to help them to see that prayer is a conversation with God. That if you can talk to a parent, you can talk to God. The book opens up acknowledging the power and the mind of an eternal God. Then it turns to gratitude as a critical part of prayer. We teach our children to say thank you. Well, there’s a Bible verse. First Thessalonians 5:17 that says “Pray without ceasing.” Prayer is the only thing we’re told to do continuously. And the next verse says, “In everything give thanks.” So we start modeling that for the child, to thank you for the trees, thank you for the songs of birds, too, so that children can see nature as a way of connecting with the sovereign God of the universe.
A critical part of the book is to learn to pray for others, and to see what theologians called the Imago Dei, the image of God in every human being, and to begin to pray for other human beings, as if they are a part of the human family—because they are…This is what I am hoping: that these little themes in this primer will enable children to know this is how I talk to God in a conversational way.
The Book | A Prayer for Our Country
In A Prayer for Our Country, US Senate Chaplain Barry Black leads children in thanking God for America, while also exploring the ways we can model God’s love to support our country’s citizens, heal hurts that divide us, and look to a stronger, united future.
Senate Chaplain Barry Black believes words matter and that healing and unity are possible in America if we see the image of God in others. In this prayer for children based on wisdom from his almost two decades of daily praying over the US Senate, Black offers needed and inspiring text to help the next generation grow stronger in faith and forward America’s dream.
The Author | Barry Black
On June 27, 2003, Rear Admiral Barry C. Black (Ret.) was elected the 62nd Chaplain of the United States Senate. He began working in the Senate on July 7, 2003. Prior to coming to Capitol Hill, Chaplain Black served in the U.S. Navy for over twenty-seven years, ending his distinguished career as the Chief of Navy Chaplains. The Senate elected its first chaplain in 1789.
Chaplain Black is a native of Baltimore, Maryland, and an alumnus of Oakwood College, Andrews University, North Carolina Central University, Eastern Baptist Seminary, Salve Regina University, and United States International University. In addition to earning master of arts degrees in divinity, counseling, and management, he has received a doctorate degree in ministry and a doctor of philosophy degree in psychology.
Chaplain Black has been selected for many outstanding achievements. Of particular note, he was chosen from 127 nominees for the 1995 NAACP Renowned Service Award for his contribution to equal opportunity and civil rights. He also received the 2002 Benjamin Elijah Mays Distinguished Leadership Award from The Morehouse School of Religion. In 2004, the Old Dominion University chapter of the NAACP conferred on him the Image Award, “Reaffirming the Dream — Realizing the Vision” for military excellence.
Chaplain Barry C. Black is married to the former Brenda Pearsall of St. Petersburg, Florida. They have three sons: Barry II, Brendan, and Bradford.