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Ex-Capitol Hill Chaplain Sees Spiritual Awakening in Senate

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Times Staff Writer

As his wife’s health deteriorated, the Rev. Lloyd J. Ogilvie practiced what he had preached during his eight years as chaplain of the U.S. Senate.

On Capitol Hill, through such tumultuous events as the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the Clinton impeachment trial, he had counseled senators to put God first, family second, the Senate third and ambition fourth.

So, Ogilvie resigned his post in March and moved back home to Hollywood to help care for his wife, Mary Jane Jenkins Ogilvie, who was being treated for a respiratory ailment at a Los Angeles facility. Two weeks after his resignation, she died.

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Now the pastor who helped his Capitol Hill flock through some of the most wrenching times in the nation’s history and in their personal lives is mourning the loss of his wife of 52 years. Known for her strength and style, she was his best friend, confidant and critic and was a partner in his ministry in Washington and in his previous 23 years as senior pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood.

In his grieving, “the most important thing that I’ve discovered is that, what I taught others, I’ve had to experience for myself,” said Ogilvie, 72. “And, I discovered that you have to lean into the pain of grief, and let God help you feel and think through it, so that you can bring healing and hope into your life.”

He believes the best antidote to grief is gratitude.

“We had 52 wonderful years. So the more thankful I am for all that we experienced and received together, the more that heals the grief,” he said. And, his faith assures him that he will see his beloved Mary Jane again.

For now, it’s a new chapter for the pastor who has been voted one of 12 most effective preachers in the English-speaking world and had a nationally syndicated radio and television ministry called “Let God Love You.”

Turning down an invitation to return to the Senate and numerous other offers from universities and seminaries, he has decided to remain in Los Angeles, where his three children and four grandchildren live.

“I am not retired. I am just changing the particular emphasis in my ministry,” said the author of 48 books.

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He will concentrate on speaking to the business community, leading conferences on preaching for pastors and being available to speak around the world.

And on July 12, Ogilvie will be awarded an honorary doctor of divinity from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, where he did postgraduate studies in the 1950s.

“My whole ministry has been involved in working with leaders -- leaders in the business world, entertainment world, in Washington with political leaders,” he said. “Each one of us has a realm of responsibility which is given to each of us and no other.”

Hoping to bring his wife home from the hospital, he had his living room remodeled to accommodate her hospital bed, and had asbestos removed from the ceiling. Now he has a memorial room for her, furnished with her favorite things and an ivory white love seat.

But his spacious Hollywood Hills home, with a view of the city and the Hollywood Reservoir, is also filled with mementos from Washington, including pictures of senators, some of whom have become close personal friends. A favorite is a photo of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), a heart surgeon, in his surgical garb.

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A Growth in Faith

The many challenges during Ogilvie’s tenure on Capitol Hill, including the anthrax scare, the changing of the administration and the deaths of several senators, helped strengthen senators’ spiritual life, he believes. “One of the most encouraging things I see happening in America today is a profound spiritual awakening among United States senators,” he said.

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“That seldom catches the attention of the media, which is so often captivated by reporting bad news,” Ogilvie said this week during a wide-ranging interview in his home. “But it’s happening nonetheless.”

“Often I would be called to come to their offices when they had a particular decision to make,” Ogilvie said.

“The thing I tried to do was talk to them about experiencing authentic power, which is greater than human power, and receiving supernatural strength beyond their human experience, expertise or education.”

Besides opening Senate sessions with a prayer, Ogilvie ministered to the 100 senators, their families, their staff and other employees. In all, he was the pastor to 6,000 -- the equivalent of a huge congregation. In Washington, his day began at 6 a.m. with a walk around the Capitol and prayer for 20 senators. In a five-day week, he prayed for all 100 senators. He always carried a laminated, maize-colored card with the names of the senators and their spouses in his pocket.

All 6,000 Senate employees also had the card, so they too could pray for the same senators and each other every day.

“I would often see a senator in the hallway, and he or she would say, ‘Hey, it’s my day. It’s been a great day. I know you’ve been praying for me,’ ” Ogilvie said.

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He still keeps the card in his pocket.

His Bible classes in the Capitol were well-attended by men and women of both parties, as were the Wednesday morning prayer breakfasts, he said. Some lawmakers also met with him informally in small groups to pray and encourage each other

Afternoons were blocked out for counseling -- half-hour appointments, one after the other. Some sessions took much longer, he said. “In the counseling, we dealt with all of the personal, human problems that the senators were facing with their families, with their own health, and aspects of stress and strain on their lives as leaders,” he said.

Sometimes Ogilvie challenged the senators about the “acrimonious spirit” that often would arise in times of crucial issues and long debate.

“When I would see conflict between senators on a particular issue, I would go to the people involved, go from one side to the other, talking with them about how they could achieve a resolution and find peace and a solution to the problem.”

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Sept. 11 Recalled

He declined to discuss President Clinton’s impeachment proceedings, but he spoke at length of helping the senators, their families and staffers in the aftermath of 9/11. On the day of the 2001 attacks, after the senators were taken to a “safe room” at the police station, Ogilvie went to see them.

He talked with them and assured them that “God’s sovereignty over our nation will guide us through this difficult time.” Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) asked Ogilvie to lead them in prayer.

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“So, we all held hands around the room and prayed,” Ogilvie said. It touched him deeply.

The process of healing and taking care of the people who were traumatized by that event was long and arduous, he said, but it offered him great opportunities to minister to them. More people wanted to talk to him about death after 9/11 than in all his previous years in the Senate.

“They wanted to talk about eternal issues,” he said. “It was then that we had to help people confront the problem of fear.”

His response to them: “This life is a small part of the whole of eternity. Death is not an end, but a transition.”

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