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Mar  2015 04
Phillips Alum serves as OK Senate Chaplain

A Phillips Theological Seminary alumnus was privileged to a behind-the-scenes look at our state's legislature during a recent stint as senate chaplain.

Andy Beck has been serving as the Sr. Minister at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Kingfisher, Oklahoma since December 2013. It was his first full-time ministry call after graduation and ordination in May of that same year. He was invited by a church member to participate in the senate chaplain program and was kind enough to answer some questions about the experience:


How did you get to be the chaplain for the legislature? Is there an application process or were you nominated?


A church member at FCC Kingfisher was elected to the OK Senate in Nov. of 2014. Darcy Jech, now Senator Darcy Jech, asked if I would be interested in participating in the senate chaplain program. There wasn't an application per se, but there was an information sheet to complete and I'm sure there was some basic vetting going on. Being the Senate chaplain basically means that for the 4 days of the week that the senate is in session, the chaplain provides an invocation at the beginning of the gathering. On the Thursday of the week, the chaplain is invited to give a brief address to the assembly.

What did you do that week, officially? Did you have an office? Were you the only chaplain? Could you share copies of the prayers you led? 

The official duties of the chaplain are to give the opening prayers during the week as well as the homily. I did not have an office or the official responsibility to be available in a pastoral role to senators or staff. Being the Senate chaplain was a privilege, and carried with it various "behind the scenes" experience. The Monday of the week I served was the day of the Governor's State of the State address. I was allowed to join Senator Jech on the floor of the OK House of Representatives for the Governors Address. That was quite a memorable experience.

Phillips: Did you spend time visiting with anyone casually? Without disclosing anything private, could you say what you talked about?

Before and after the Senate sessions I was able to meet and speak with many senators and staff. During the session, the chaplain sits at the front podium, next to the President of the Senate, or the senator who is serving in that role in the President's absence. I was able to meet and talk with many different people, mostly about where we were from, as well as family, kids and a little religion too. I was advised by a senate staff person to avoid lobbying for specific issues during my homily. Many people asked where I went to school, and I proudly said, "Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa."


Did your perception of the legislature change after you spent a week there? What did you think before/after?


The OK legislature has been getting a lot of press lately, some of it negative and for important reasons. It's easy I think, to attribute personal attitudes and feelings about proposed legislation onto the individuals who introduce them. It doesn't take many steps to move from disliking a proposed bill to disliking a lawmaker; to recall the irony of election processes and the results they bring forth. The limited experiences I had during the first week of the legislative session further opened my eyes to the humans behind the scenes. I was reminded of Dr. Bessler's "Politics and Religion" class at PTS, in which "The Irony of American History" by Reinhold Niebuhr was required reading. Niebuhr points out that, "Our cherished Values of individualism are real enough; and we are right in preferring death to their annulment. But our exaltation of the individual involves us in some very ironic contradictions. On the one hand, our culture does not really value the individual as much as it pretends; on the other hand, if justice is to be maintained and our survival assured, we cannot make individual liberty as unqualifiedly the end of life as our ideology asserts."`


I believe that's where our legislative process struggles in looking for and finding balance. There are good people doing good work; and finding the balance to make it reality for the most good is the work of the legislature.

Were there any rules or protocols you found notable?
Beck:  After the opening prayer of each session, there were introductions of guests, often the family of one of the senators. These introductions were always presented as "a very important introduction", with heavy emphasis on "very important", and followed by standing applause. There were also several presentations of merit for sports teams and individuals from the home districts of the senators.

What do you think about the 10 Commandments monument? How about groups that are interested in declaring Christianity the official state religion? Any other hot button issues come to mind?


I could see the site of the 10 Commandments monument from Senator Jech's office window. The replacement monument is already in place. I'm an advocate for strict separation, that neither church nor government should advance influences or benefits to the other. There becomes the responsibility on the part of lawmakers, I think, to support plurality if distinction is given to one branch of religious expression and not to others, such as allocating public land for a religious monument but denying same to others.


Even in our political climate right now in OK, I imagine that any groups that want to legislate Christianity as the official state religion would find themselves involved in multiple legal battles and lawsuits on state and national levels.


I really kept personal and theological opinions pretty tight. I felt that my role that week as chaplain was to be open and available to all people, and I did not want to alienate any person or group.


Is it a "one time" deal or can you go back? Would you want to go back?

Beck: As far as I know, I could go back if there was an opening later in the session. I would be honored to serve in that capacity again. In all it was a neat opportunity and I am proud to have had the chance to represent First Christian Church, Kingfisher at the Oklahoma Senate.

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