The choice for Senate chaplain will bring many firsts to the position: the first black man, first military chaplain and first Seventh-day Adventist.
Navy Rear Adm. Barry C. Black, 54, once approved by the Senate, will replace retiring Senate chaplain Lloyd C. Ogilvie, a Presbyterian.
The fourth of eight children born in public housing in South Baltimore’s Cherry Hill district, Adm. Black’s career as an Adventist pastor and military chaplain led him to the Navy’s chief of chaplains post three years ago.
“I am excited about this opportunity to provide ministry here at the Senate,” he said yesterday . The chaplain was selected by a committee of three Republican and Democratic senators.
“Admiral Black has provided spiritual guidance to thousands of service men and women during his 25 years of service,” Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said yesterday . “Recent world events brought significant challenges to the chief of chaplains, and in every case, Admiral Black’s unique perspective and wisdom was a calming and sobering influence.”
Asked whether he was trying to make a statement by naming the first black Senate chaplain, the Tennessee Republican replied, “No, absolutely not.”
Mr. Frist ascended to the majority leadership position when Sen. Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, resigned after praising the presidential campaign of former Sen. Strom Thurmond, South Carolina Republican, who ran on a segregationist platform.
Adm. Black will be the 62nd chaplain to accept the two-year post, although many chaplains renew their terms several times. The chaplain oversees the prayers that open all Senate sessions, plus counsels the senators, their families and staffs, and schedules Bible studies and prayer meetings for a constituency of 6,000 people.
He had no plans to become a pastor when he was sent Oakwood College in Huntsville, Ala., as a teenage follower of Malcolm X. It was after a student mission trip to Peru that he decided to join the clergy.
Oakwood serves the Adventists, a conservative Protestant denomination that has 1 million members in the United States and 13 million worldwide. They are best known for choosing Saturday as their day of worship.
It was at Oakwood where Adm. Black met his wife-to-be, Brenda Pearsall. Yesterday was their 30th wedding anniversary.
While serving as pastor at several churches in eastern North Carolina, he encountered five Adventist sailors from Norfolk, who drove five hours to hear him preach. According to the Adventist Review, he asked them why they didn’t attend services at the base chapel.
“We’ve never seen an African-American chaplain,” they said. This piqued his interest in the military chaplaincy, which he entered in 1976. Besides doing family counseling, Navy chaplains accompany Marines in the field, and share watch and damage-control duties aboard ship.
Adm. Black served in nine ports, from Norfolk to Okinawa, Japan, and was chaplain of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet before being made chief of about 900 active duty and 500 reserve chaplains worldwide in 2000. He and his family live in the Navy Yard in Southeast.
Staff writer Charles Hurt contributed to this story.