By Sharon Salyer Herald Writer
LAKE STEVENS — A Snohomish High School graduate who now serves as chaplain to the U.S. House of Representatives said that America’s interdenominational traditions date back to the earliest days of the nation’s founding.
“The Continental Congress in 1775 opened with what I claim was the very first interfaith, interdenominational prayer in the history of the human race,” said the Rev. Pat Conroy.
Conroy made his comments while participating in a worship service at Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Lake Stevens on Aug. 3.
Conroy has known the pastor at that church, the Rev. Susan Kirlin-Hackett, since she, her husband and Conroy attended seminary schools together in California in the 1980s.
After learning Conroy was returning to Snohomish County to attend his 45th high school reunion, Kirlin-Hackett invited him to participate in her church’s service.
Conroy, a Roman Catholic priest, said Samuel Adams, a Congregationalist, asked for an Anglican priest to give a prayer for God’s blessing on the Continental Congress.
“It was the first time, I claim, that people realized you could have a unified community without having to have a unified religion,” Conroy said.
“We don’t have to believe the same things religiously to build a community,” he said. “God’s spirit poured forward in the American experience to proclaim a broader Pentecostal message, to proclaim the greatness of God to all languages and faiths.”
Conroy was appointed to his post in Washington, D.C., in 2011, the first Jesuit to serve as House chaplain.
Conroy’s job gives him a close look at the inner workings of Congress.
During a telephone interview before his trip to Snohomish County, Conroy said that the voting public recently has elected people that place a higher value on strictly representing their views than working for bipartisan compromise.
“The people who come here come with marching orders to stand their ground and not compromise,” he said. “The compromising legislator, the one who successfully works out the best deals that can be had, is not the person who is winning primaries anymore,” he said.
There would be a political price to pay for a member of Congress that does something that would appear to their constituents as a compromise, Conroy said.
“A statesman is not the politician who is going to get elected. It’s the person who has strong political positions that reflect his constituents.”
Conroy said his work with House members often involves short conversations. “People are so busy here that the casual conversation of three to four minutes is really how I connect,” he said.
The longer he has been in his role of chaplain, the more unusual he sees it is. “I’m one of the few people that doesn’t have a political tag,” he said. “That’s a valuable thing. I’m practically the only non-political person on that floor.”
As a Snohomish High School student, Conroy thought that one day he might run for the U.S. Senate. He went on to graduate from Gonzaga University’s School of Law.
“That’s where I ran into the Jesuits,” he said. “Now, here I sit in the House. I have a front row seat in one of the places I had hoped to go.” It just wasn’t in the way he originally imagined, but instead though following his religious vocation.
“I’m here under much freer auspices than if I had been a politician,” he said. “I am in a candy store in terms of the intellectual passions of my life but with the freedom and the mandate not to get into the political debate.”
Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or firstname.lastname@example.org