May 1 : Rev. William Linn, 1st Presbyterian Chaplain to the House of Representatives

This Day in Presbyterian History:

The First Chaplain to the House of Representatives

In a day when everyone is decrying our young people’s lack of knowledge of our American republic, try this question on yourself.  Who was the nation’s first chaplain elected to the United States House of Representatives? If you answered the Rev. William Linn, of Pennsylvania, a member minister of the Presbyterian Church, give yourself ten brownie points.

His years were February 27, 1752 to January 8, 1809. We don’t know much about his background, but early on, this ardent and most impassioned minister, as he was called by his contemporaries, graduated from the College of New Jersey (later on Princeton Theological Seminary) in 1772. Ordained by the Donegal Presbytery three years later, he found himself in the perilous days leading up to the American Revolution. He became the chaplain of the Continental Army, and as far as we know, proclaimed the Scriptures faithfully to men of that military unit.

After his military chaplaincy years, he served for seven years the Scotch-Irish members of the Big Spring Presbyterian Church in present day Newville, Pennsylvania. His ministerial call took him next to the Maryland as the principal of an academy for four years. It was on May 1, 1789, that he was elected as the first chaplain of the United States House of Representatives in Washington, D.C.

The members of Congress, having begun meetings of the Continental Congress every day in prayer, obviously wanted to have that spiritual ministry continued in both the Senate and the House. William Linn prayed each day for the members of the U.S. House of Representatives, or arranged guest chaplains for the post, counseled with the members of the House, officiated at funerals and even performed marriages on occasion.  In what would today be called a violation of the separation of church and state, Rev. Linn  held worship services in the chamber for Congressional members and their families, alternating with the Senate chaplain every other week.

After this ministry, and two other Presbyterian ministers consecutively  replaced him as House chaplain, William Linn became a trustee and later on President pro temp of the Queens College, later on renamed Rutgers University. He is listed down as the first president of Rutgers University.

He went on to meet His Maker and Redeemer at the age of 55 in 1809, after a successful ministry in the military, in the church,  in government, and education.

Words to Live By:   We may not know all of God’s servants who have been faithful in His kingdom down through the years, but we need to realize that we must be ready to serve Him in any capacity as He opens the door of service.  Are  you ready?

Through the Scriptures: Psalms 61 – 63

Through the Standards:  Proof texts for adoption

Galatians 4:6, 7

“Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba. Father.’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you ae a son, God has made you also an heir.” (NIV)

Ephesians 1:5

“In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.” (NIV)

Romans 8:16, 17

“The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.  Now if we are children, then we are heirs — heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” (NIV)

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  1. Vaughn Edward Hathaway Jr’s avatar

    “brownie points”? Not quite the connection that the archivist wanted to make, I think. Maybe “bonus points”???


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