The American tradition of legislative prayer dates to 1774, when Jacob Duché, the rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, was recruited to offer prayers before the First Continental Congress. After the Constitution was ratified, the U.S. Senate selected an Episcopal bishop from New York, Samuel Proovost, as its chaplain in April 1789. For its part, the House of Representatives chose William Linn, a Philadelphia Presbyterian minister, as its first chaplain in May 1789. Proovost and Linn each received an annual salary of US$500. After Congress moved to Washington, D.C., local clergy took turns leading prayer before the permanent chaplaincies were institutionalized.

Today, Congressional chaplains hold full time, nonpartisan, nonsectarian jobs. They are formal officials of the chamber in which they serve. The chaplains offer public prayers at the beginning of each day of congressional business. They also provide pastoral care for members of Congress and others associated with the House and Senate, including staff, police and family members.

Some state governments also have paid or volunteer chaplains; research remains to be conducted. If you’ve got more resources you think we should include on this sector, let us know at