Former Senate chaplain brings message of listening

The Rev. Lloyd J. Ogilvie will speak at a Walla Walla church over the weekend.


WALLA WALLA -- It is "listening" that has shaped the life and ministry of the former U.S. Senate chaplain who will address a local Christian leadership conference this weekend. Listening to people -- and listening to God.

"But the key for me was learning to listen to people by surveying their deepest needs and questions," said the Rev. Lloyd J. Ogilvie.

From 1995-2003, Ogilvie served as a pastor, spiritual adviser and counselor to the senators, their families and staff -- in all, as many as 6,000 people, he said.

Ogilvie, the author of 52 books and a veteran of television and radio ministries, will speak at First Presbyterian Church, 325 S. First Ave., on Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday morning.

"I think it's an awesome privilege to come and speak," Ogilvie said. "Rather than bringing something to the community, I feel that I'm coming to hop onto a fast-moving train" because of the things he's heard are taking place among the churches and in the local Christian community, he said.

Ogilvie is aware of those things because he keeps in touch with First Presbyterian's senior pastor, the Rev. Albert Gillin, who followed Ogilvie at First Presbyterian Church in Hollywood, Calif., a congregation Ogilvie pastored for 23 years.

Over the years, Ogilvie said he honed his listening and ministry skills and developed a style of what he calls "dialogical" preaching.

Each year, he'd survey his Hollywood congregation and his television and radio audiences, asking them to send him their questions, greatest hopes and deepest hurts.

And then each summer, he'd return to Scotland, where he had done his post-graduate work at the University of Edinburgh. He'd bring with him a trunk filled with people's questions and concerns. "I'd spend my summers reviewing those questions and searching the scripture for the answers," he said. Then he'd base his sermons on what he'd found through prayer and study.

The U.S. Senate has had 62 chaplains, and a tradition of praying before each session, since 1789, beginning with Samuel Provoost, an Episcopalian.

The current chaplain is Barry C. Black, a Seventh-day Adventist pastor, who was appointed July 7, 2003.

Ogilvie was chaplain No. 61.

Ten years before he received the call to become Senate chaplain, Ogilvie said, he'd been invited to be a guest chaplain, and had opened a Senate session with prayer.

"And as I left the podium after giving the prayer," Ogilvie said, "I heard an inner voice saying, 'Don't ever seek it, don't ever ask for it, and don't ever lobby for it, but if you're asked, say yes,'" he said.

"And I had no idea of the implications of that, but I just tucked that away in my mind, and when Sen. Mark Hatfield called me, (in 1994) I remembered that message that I was given 10 years before, and there was no way that I could say no."

Ogilvie went on to serve as Senate chaplain under two presidents, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and was chaplain when terrorists attacked the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001.

As chaplain, he said, "I had to make a decision to be a nonpartisan, nonpolitical pastor to people who were making decisions for our nation and the world, and my task was to earn the right to be heard, and to be their counselor," Ogilvie said.

"I had to depend upon God to give me strength and guidance for each situation," he said. "Once again I had to listen to what was happening in the Senate and in the lives of the senators in order to be able to lead them in prayer with prayers that were relevant to the particular time of their lives, and the choices they were making."

The experience brought home to him, Ogilvie said, that "beneath the highly polished surface of great leaders is a tremendous need for God. I think it changed me in the sense that I learned, once again, to take no one for granted."

As chaplain, he said, "I was privileged to introduce some senators to God, strengthen others in their faith, and to help them work together beyond parties and loyalties."

Ogilvie would open Senate sessions each day -- a challenge because the prayers are limited to two minutes. "I would ask God to guide me in the development of the prayers, so that they would really reach the deepest needs of the senators," he said.

Often, he said, he would pray about issues, "but only that we would seek God's will for the best of our nation."

As a Christian and a longtime Presbyterian minister, Ogilvie said he usually prayed "in the name of Jesus," which can be controversial in some public settings. He did receive some criticism because of it, "but we handled it pretty forthrightly," he said.

Ogilvie said he did vary prayer endings to recognize special days in the Jewish calendar as well as the Christian calendar. "I would always pray, at the end of every prayer, "you are our Lord and Savior," he said, "and that was a meaningful ending for both Christians and Jews."

Today, Ogilvie is president of Leadership Unlimited, through which he continues his lifelong ministry focus on the care, encouragement and support of business, political and community leaders, according to information posted on his website. At 79, Ogilvie has no plans to retire.

"I decided that I would use this period in my life to speak around the world and lead conferences," he said.

Catherine Hicks can be reached at or 526-8312.


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