Congressional Prayer Room
Near the Rotunda of the Capitol there is a room set apart for prayer. Its only purpose is to provide a quiet place where individual Representatives and Senators may withdraw to seek Divine strength and guidance, both in public affairs and in their own personal lives.
The prayer room was established by the passage in the House and Senate of House Concurrent Resolution 60 in 1954. Then Speaker of the House, Joseph W. Martin, Jr. offered space on the House side of the Capitol and the room opened for use in 1955.
In the design and decoration of the room, it was important that no part of the furnishings and no symbol used would give offense to members of any church. At the same time they wished to incorporate in the fabric and decoration of the room the basic unity of belief in God and His Providence that has characterized our history. The accent is on simplicity. An interfaith advisory committee, comprised of the House/Senate chaplains and a Catholic and Jewish representative, approved what was put in the room.
The room’s inspirational lift comes from the stained glass window with George Washington kneeling in prayer as the focal point. Surrounding him are the words from Psalm 16:1, “Preserve me, O God, for in thee do I put my trust.” Above him are the words from Lincoln’s Gettysburg address: “This Nation Under God.”
Also incorporated into the window are the two sides from the Great Seal of the United States. The pyramid and eye contain the Latin phrases Annuit Coeptus (God has favored our undertakings) and Novus Ordo Seclorum (A new order of the ages is born). The Eagle, with the phrase E Pluribus Unum (from many, one). (In religion, it signifies America’s faith in tolerance and mutual respect. In statecraft it signifies one nation out of thirteen colonies.)
The names of the thirteen original states are contained in the central portion of the window. The remaining states are listed in chronological order around the outside pane, starting in the lower left corner. The two lower panels of the window show the Holy Scriptures and a candle, signifying the light from God’s law.
A Bible, usually opened to Psalm 23, sits on the altar underneath the window. Two prayer benches, six chairs, plants, two candles and an American flag complete the furnishings in the room.
The stained glass window was donated by craftsmen from California. It is dedicated “to those who have in the past sought God’s guidance and to those who presently determine the destiny of this Nation by the inspiration of their decisions.” Illuminated from behind, the window provides an appropriate back drop for prayer.
Just as prayer was offered at the constitutional convention and is still offered today at the beginning of each session of Congress; just as the ministry of chaplains of all faiths serve our men and women in the military; just as our coinage, the Pledge of Allegiance and our postage stamps witness our faith in Divine Providence so, too, does the prayer room give the men and women who have the gravest decisions to make for America and the world an opportunity to be alone with God.
As befitting a place of prayer, this space is not open to tours or to visitors to the Capitol.
At the time of its establishment, Members had this to say about the prayer room:
“‘A lasting monument’ to this government of ours which has ever been in the forefront of the fight for human liberties and particularly for the right to worship God in accordance with the dictates of one’s own conscience.”
“It is my hope that the establishment of the common room will serve not only to symbolize the diversity within unity that characterized the United Sates, but that it will serve also as an instrument for the advancement of understanding, of tolerance, and truth.”