Barry Black

U.S. Senate Chaplain Barry Black

A prayer breakfast without prayer cuts to the heart of U.S. Senate Chaplain Barry Black.

"One of my pet peeves is when you have a prayer breakfast and no one talks about prayer and very few people pray," he said. "It's very, very easy to just have a prayer breakfast where the eggs and bacon is more important than asking God for a particular blessing. I like to emphasize the importance of prayer at prayer breakfasts."

Black, who has led the Senate's prayers and pastoral care for 17 years, won't neglect the topic of prayer as the keynote speaker for the 56th annual Louisiana Governor's Prayer Breakfast set for 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, March 10, at the Crowne Plaza, 4728 Constitution Ave., Baton Rouge. The buffet starts at 6:30 a.m.

"I think a lot of people aren't aware of the fact that the intensity of our prayers matters. I want to talk to people about how to embrace the power of fervent prayer and unlock the power of fervent prayer," said Black, who retired as a rear admiral in 2003 after serving 27 years in the Navy and then was elected as the 62nd chaplain of the Senate. He is the first black chaplain in the nearly 200-year history of the office.

The highly decorated and respected Black has become known for his eloquent prayers to open Senate sessions, some challenging lawmakers and some that have gone viral. He has even been parodied on "Saturday Night Live."

More than 1,000 people are expected for the prayer breakfast, including many members of the state Legislature. Gov. John Bel Edwards will also be among the speakers. Also featured will be Christian recording artist Charles Billingsley, a Grammy and Dove award winner. LSU national championship coach Ed Orgeron is expected to make a special appearance.

The interdenominational Governor's Prayer Breakfast is an annual statewide event held near the opening of the legislative session to seek God's guidance.

"The Bible calls for all believers to pray for our leaders and for those elected officials, regardless of what their political stance is. So we pray daily for our Legislature," said Tom Harrison, chairman of the Governor’s Prayer Breakfast and executive pastor at Broadmoor Baptist Church in Shreveport. "(Black) is an outstanding leader. Hopefully, he will challenge our state to pray for the legislators, all the leaders and citizens of our state."

Harrison said six leaders will offer prayers and read Scriptures.

Black, an ordained minister in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, leads four weekly Bible studies at the nation's Capitol, including one exclusively for U.S. senators. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., who attends those sessions, invited Black to speak at the breakfast.

"I'm very close to Sen. Cassidy, and I also love Louisiana. So that's the perfect combination to come to one of my favorite states," Black said. "(Cassidy) is a very biblically literate individual."

Black, 71, has enjoyed similar relationships with other lawmakers, regardless of party.

During an opening prayer during the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, Black prayed, "God, remind us there are patriots on both sides of the aisle."

"These years have helped me to see that there are people that are passionate about this country and about doing their best for this country," Black said.

He said he serves as a "pastor away from home" for many lawmakers. He regularly meets with senators about spiritual and moral issues; assists with research on theological and biblical questions; conducts marriage enrichment counseling; and officiates at weddings, funerals and memorial services.

"I'm a spiritual physician," he said. "You can have the same kind of relationship with them as their pastor back home would have with them. That's a pretty transparent and often intimate relationship you have. You baptize their children. You counsel them about a variety of issues, so it's a great opportunity."

Black has taken advantage of the opportunities God has blessed him with. He was raised with seven siblings by his mother in a tough neighborhood in Baltimore. Black went on to earn master degrees in divinity, counseling and management; a doctorate degree in ministry; and a doctorate in psychology. 

He pastored for 11 years before his 27-year stint in the Navy, where he retired as the chief of chaplains. During his military career, Black earned the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit Medal, Defense Meritorious Service Medal (two awards), Meritorious Service Medals (two awards), Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals (two awards) and numerous other honors.

Black, whose 2006 autobiography is titled "From the Hood to the Hill," said his 17 years as Senate chaplain put him on the "front row seat to history." His other books included "The Blessing of Adversity" (2011), "Nothing to Fear" (2017) and "Make Your Voice" (2019).

"I've had the opportunity of offering a prayer when Rosa Parks was lying in honor at the Capitol Rotunda (in 2005) with President George W. Bush standing beside me," he said.

Other milestones, Black said, included having lunch with Coretta Scott King six months before her death in 2006; meeting and praying for Pope Francis in 2015; and praying with the Dalai Lama in 2015.

"I am blessed to be in a position where I meet and get to know people who are making a difference in our nation and world, and that is an amazing privilege," Black said.

Tickets for the Governor's Prayer Breakfast are $50. For more information, go to lagpb.org, email info@lagbp.org or call (225) 505-7377.

Another day. Another blessing.

Acts 9:20 says, "Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God." That didn't take long.

The same Saul (who later became Paul) that was once dead-set on killing followers of Jesus Christ and filled with hate was converted on the road to Damascus and then filled with the Holy Spirit.

The word says "AT ONCE" he started preaching Jesus. Changed in an instant and already trying to change lives for Christ. Saved for a second and already preaching Jesus. Some have been "saved" for decades and don't preach Jesus, share Jesus or even love Jesus.

If we preach Jesus, the son of God, our lives, our neighborhoods, our children, our nation and situations would be changed — maybe not at once but forever.

Email Terry Robinson at trobinson@theadvocate.com.