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A Chaplain (Latin: capellanus) is a person who is designated to offer ministry and is formally ordained or consecrated by some religious institution. Chaplains are specially trained to offer support, prayer, and spiritual guidance to patients, schools, hospitals, prisons, etc. Historically, the term was a common reference to a priest who was paid to serve in a church or chapel. In modern times, the term typically refers to a clergyman who is ministering to some institution, which is not organized as a church body.

U.S. government chaplains

Main Article: U.S. religious heritage
Reverend Jacob Duché leading prayer in the first Congress in 1774. Read the text of the first prayer.

The U.S. Congress has appointed Chaplains for itself and the armed forces since the time of the Revolutionary war.[1] To this day, the congressional chaplain leads prayer each day during House of Representative proceedings. The prayer for today or archives may be downloaded from the House website.[2]

In addition to opening proceedings with prayer, the Chaplain provides pastoral counseling to the House community, coordinates the scheduling of guest chaplains, and arranges memorial services for the House and its staff. In the past, Chaplains have performed marriage and funeral ceremonies for House members.[3]


On July 9, 1776 the U.S. Congress elected Reverend Jacob Duché, rector of Christ Church Philadelphia, to serve as the first congressional Chaplain. A resolution passed on April 22, 1782 (shown here) directed that military chaplains be paid at the rate of a major in the Continental Army.[4]

On October 1, 1777, Congress appointed joint chaplains: William White, Duché's successor at Christ Church, and George Duffield, pastor of the Third Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia. By appointing chaplains of different denominations, Congress expressed a desire to prevent any single denomination from monopolizing government patronage. This policy was followed by the first Congress under the Constitution which on April 15, 1789, adopted a joint resolution requiring that the practice be continued.[5]

The election of the Rev. William Linn as Chaplain of the House on May 1, 1789, continued the tradition established by the Continental Congresses of each day's proceedings opening with a prayer by a chaplain. The early chaplains alternated duties with their Senate counterparts on a weekly basis. The two conducted Sunday services for the Washington community in the House Chamber every other week.[6]


Since the election of Rev. Linn in 1789, the House has been served by chaplains of various denominations, including: