TOPEKA, Kan. (BP) — Humor, poetry, God and state legislatures don’t seem like a match made in heaven, unless you’ve been anywhere near the Kansas State Senate for the past three decades.
That’s thanks to Fred Hollomon, the Georgia native who served for 31 years as chaplain of Kansas’ upper house. After kicking off state senate sessions for most of the past three decades with his poetic and humorous prayers, Holloman retired at the end of the last legislative session.
Hollomon, 88, started his now famous tradition of mixing humor and rhyme with his prayers soon after getting flack for his first prayer. Two people complained it was too long.
“I’ve found that people will read or follow you when you’re rhyming because they want to see how it ends,” said Hollomon, who was a North American Mission Board endorsed chaplain.
Born in Georgia and raised in Alabama during the Great Depression, Hollomon’s call to ministry didn’t come until after he had begun a career in banking. Unfulfilled in that role, he talked to his pastor, who pointed him toward ministry. After graduating from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and serving as a pastor in Oklahoma, Missouri and Kansas, he was asked to serve as an aide in the Kansas State House and later in the state senate.
In 1979, as the small church he pastored in Kansas grew large enough to ask him to serve full-time, the state senate president asked him to be the institution’s chaplain. Except for a three-year absence in the early 1980s when he stepped aside to pastor a church near Kansas City, he served faithfully as the senate’s chaplain ever since.
Officially, Hollomon’s chaplain duties included only the opening prayer of the senate each day it was in session. While he could leave after that prayer, he saw what he did as a ministry and many days spent time with legislators and senate staff getting to know them and counseling them when needed.
In past years Holloman held weekly prayer meetings at the senate and performed weddings and funerals for senators. Yet his ministry touched far more than just the senators. For three decades he ministered to senate secretaries, doormen, lobbyists and security personnel, among others.
Various state senates around the nation do chaplaincy differently. Some have a different chaplain come in each session to deliver the opening prayer.
“I don’t like that near as well,” Hollomon said. “You don’t get acquainted that way. I think it’s a mistake to have different guys pop in all the time. I think if you get someone who enjoys it and does a fairly good job of it, you should keep him or her.”
Yet it’s the creative prayers Hollomon became known for around the state. Newspapers began quoting him and interviewing him about the prayers soon after he began using them during the 1979 legislative session.
“Reporters started interviewing me soon after I started doing it,” Hollomon said. “They did it for two reasons. First, I was doing it differently than anyone else they’d ever heard pray, and second, I prayed rhymes. I reminded them that David prayed in rhyme, too.”
Since his prayers were printed in the senate journal, he wrote them out every day — a practice he had not done before becoming a chaplain. In 2005, he published a collection of the prayers in a book titled “Uncommon Prayers.”
One of the most famous of the prayers got national radio exposure during his first month in the senate. A reporter heard the prayer and asked if he could get a copy of it. Hollomon thought little of the prayer until a neighbor heard it on the radio. The prayer was read on the Paul Harvey Show.
Hollomon’s humor was part of all aspects of his ministry. A few years ago, the Nebraska state legislature made news because some were questioning the constitutionality of paying chaplains.
He said, “Before I prayed one day, I said, ‘I understand our sister state to the north is having trouble paying a chaplain. Southern Baptists have done a good job of raising funds all their lives.’ I just held up an offering plate. Of course, I got a pretty good response.”
Despite the objections of many throughout the years, Hollomon remained committed to ending his prayers by invoking the name of Jesus. A quick Internet search of Hollomon’s name turns up a variety of mentions of this practice by groups urging a more strict separation of church and state.
“I never quit doing that even though I got a lot of criticism about it,” Hollomon said. “I did it as a witness.”
The North American Mission Board endorses about 3,650 chaplains in a variety of roles throughout the world, including in military, corporate, hospital, correction facilities, public safety and professional organization roles.
Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).