Five days before George Washington was sworn in as first President, the Senate acquired its first chaplain. Just short of 180 years later it swore in his fiftieth successor, the Rev. Dr. Edward L. R. Elson of Washington’s National Presbyterian Church. Five other Senate chaplains have come from the same congregation.
Elson says, “I am deeply sensitive to the awesome responsibility of standing in the midst of power, representing One who rejected raw physical power in order to make available to all mankind a higher power.”
But Elson, who baptized President Dwight Eisenhower in 1953, is used to being in the midst of temporal greatness, and as his wife Helen put it, his post ought to be “a natural development” of his ministry in the Capital. Eisenhower attended his church regularly for eight years, and its rolls include a wide sampling of official Washington.
Elson succeeds the ailing Rev. Dr. Frederick Brown Harris, 83, who resigned after serving as the Senate’s spiritual shepherd since 1942, save for two years when Peter Marshall held the office.
His counterpart in the House is the Rev. Dr. Edward Latch, a Methodist who was family pastor to then Vice-President Nixon.
Senator Lee Metcalf (D.-Mont.), a Methodist, had nominated the Rev. Dr. Edward B. Lewis of Capitol Hill Methodist, but Mississippi’s Senator John Stennis (D.-Miss.), an elder in Elson’s church and leader of the weekly Senate prayer breakfasts, nominated his pastor. The Democratic Caucus had a potentially ticklish situation on its hands, but despite strong feelings, harsh words were not uttered behind the closed doors. Elson won a two-year term, 28 to 20, over Lewis, who was Harris’s frequent standby.
Outside the closed doors, however, all was not as irenic. One senator ...1
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