May 29, 2023

Jacob Duche


The first prayer of the Continental Congress was offered in 1774. The English Parliament had just passed the Intolerable Acts to punish Boston for its anti-British sentiment. The American colonies responded by convening the first Continental Congress to challenge the punitive laws. Delegates from the 13 colonies minus Georgia gathered in Philadelphia. The mood was tense and somber. At the first meeting, it was moved and seconded to open the next day’s session in prayer. There was considerable debate about the motion, given the diversity of religious sentiments represented by the delegates. Samuel Adams rose to defend the motion, asserting he was willing to be led in prayer by anyone of “piety and virtue.” His motion passed to invite Rev. Jacob Duche from nearby Christ Church, to convene the next day’s proceedings with prayer. Jacob Duche read Psalm 35 the following morning and broke into extemporaneous prayer. John Adams later wrote to his wife, “Rev. Duche followed the Psalm with ten minutes of spontaneous prayer, which filled the bosom of every man present. I must confess I have never heard a better prayer.” Adams concluded his letter to Abigail, “I never saw a greater effect upon an audience…I must beg you to read that Psalm.” One delegate said he was worth riding a hundred miles to hear Duche pray.  Adams noted in his letter that some delegates, including George Washington knelt for the ten-minute prayer. While the entire prayer is worth reviewing, the last portion is particularly fitting to pray for our nation’s leaders on this Memorial Day:

Be Thou present, O God of Wisdom, and direct the counsel of this Honorable Assembly, enable them to settle all things on the best and surest foundations: that the scene of blood may be speedily closed; that Order, Harmony and Piety, prevail and flourish among the people…Preserve the health of their bodies, and the vigor of their minds, shower down on them, and the millions they here represent, such temporal Blessings as Thou seest expedient for them in this world, and crown them with everlasting Glory in the world to come. All this we ask in the name and through the merits of Jesus Christ, Thy Son and our Savior. Amen.

Rev. Dr. Peter James served 42 years as the senior of Vienna Presbyterian Church in Vienna, VA — 21 years in the 20th century and 21 years in the 21st century. He retired in 2021 and now serves as Pastor-in-Residence at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Even as a pastor, prayer came slowly to Pete. Read Pete’s story.