Friday, January 20, 2012

Praying at the State House

Last fall, I received a call from the Colorado House of Representatives asking if I would like to be a chaplain for the next legislative session. "What does that mean?" I asked the person on the other end of the line. "It means that you are responsible for delivering the prayer at the opening of every session on a particular weekday. We start in January and end in May. Do Thursdays work for you?"
I thought about it for a moment. Over the course of my 25 years in the Rabbinate, I've delivered a lot of opening prayers. Usually, when a clergyperson is asked to deliver a prayer, it's a one-shot deal. You go to the function, sit on the dais, offer your prayer and that's about it. The nice thing about delivering an opening prayer is that, because they are usually a "one shot" type of event, one can reuse phrases and concepts on occasion.
This, however, was different. To deliver a prayer every week to the State House of Representatives meant that I would have to come up with new ideas each week. But it was also an intriguing opportunity. If I spoke to the legislators once a year, they probably wouldn't remember what I said. If, however, I spoke each week, they might remember what I had to say.
But before I could say yes to this request, I had to wrestle with how I felt about the concept of offering an opening prayer for a governmental agency. After all, aren't we supposed to value the separation of Church and State in our nation? Is it really kosher to offer a prayer prior to legislative action? Might that compromise my values? One the other hand, however, I knew that there were many clergy who would relish the idea of inserting God into the House of Representatives. Perhaps my presence could be a moderating and balancing factor to the more fundamentalist preachers who would seize on the opportunity to evangelize and insert their particular brand of religion into the legislative process?
And so, I agreed to do it.  
I have a question for you all: If you could deliver a prayer to the Colorado House of Representatives, what would you like to say? I really do want to hear from you. No guarantees that I will use your ideas, but I promise to read them all.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Joe Black