As pastor of a big church in Monroe and as a former TV news anchor in Charlotte, the Rev. Chris Justice is used to having an audience.
But on Thursday morning, he’ll speak – for 90 seconds – to what’s been called the most exclusive club in the world: the U.S. Senate.
As the day’s guest chaplain, he’ll offer the opening prayer to members of the upper chamber at 9:30 a.m. – live on C-SPAN 2.
“Washington, D.C. is awesome and to get the opportunity to stand on the floor of the Senate – that’s pretty incredible,” said Justice, 47, who’s pastor of 2,300-member Lee Park Church.
The Senate has a full-time chaplain, Barry C. Black of the Seventh-Day Adventist faith. He’s a retired Navy Rear Admiral and former chief of Navy Chaplains.
But members of the legislative body can recommend guest chaplains to write and deliver the opening prayer, as Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., did for Justice, who’s a Southern Baptist minister.
During his 12 years at Charlotte’s WCNC (Channel 36), Justice covered some political stories. But, since leaving the news business in 2008, he said he’s been “one of the least political preachers. I love (public officials) for the work they do, but I’m preaching that there’s something else that will change people’s lives.”
After writing his prayer, he submitted it to Senate officials and was told he’d hear back if there were any issues with it. There weren’t.
Over the years, the Senate and the House, whose members come from various faith backgrounds or none at all, have recommended leaders of many faiths to serve as guest chaplains – including the Dalai Lama, a Buddhist, in 2014.
As a Christian, Justice will open with a reference to God offering “Christ-centered salvation and peace” and end with “We pray to You and praise You in Jesus’ name.”
“I want to be respectful to other faiths,” Justice said Tuesday, “but I have to be respectful to my Savior. There’s not another way for me to pray but in Jesus’ name.”
In his prayer, Justice also will acknowledge divisions over issues, but call for “your Spirit (to) enlighten us and convict us to fulfill Your call to love one another as you have loved us.”
Opening prayers in Congress can be traced back to the Continental Congress and this official 1787 recommendation from Founding Father Benjamin Franklin:
“I ... move that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the Clergy of this City be requested to officiate.”
At least three court cases have centered on having congressional chaplains in a country that enshrines separation of church and state. In 1983, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the practice of having opening prayers, saying it “has become part of the fabric of our society.”
Besides delivering his prayer Thursday, Justice said he’ll get a tour of the U.S. Capitol from U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., have coffee with U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-N.C., and do lunch with Tillis.
“You don’t get free travel to D.C.,” he said, “but I will get lunch and coffee.”