The Very Rev. Canon Martini Shaw of St. Thomas African Episcopal Church served as the guest chaplain to the U.S. House on Thursday by giving the opening prayer for a regular session.

Father Shaw, the 17th rector of St. Thomas, said this is his first time appearing before a federal body officially representing the church.

“I’m absolutely honored and humbled,” Shaw said. “The invitation comes from the U.S. House Chaplain. He is the one who actually invited me at the request of Congressman Dwight Evans (D-3). Anytime that I’m able to represent the church in general, the Episcopal church in general and more specifically St. Thomas in Philadelphia, I am truly honored and humbled at the same time being able to represent my faith and that is a follower of Jesus Christ.”

Shaw prayed for “social justice and equality for all American citizens,” causes he said are central to his ministry. He added that serving as a guest chaplain in the current tumultuous climate of the government, and following recent comments by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that African-Americans do not need reparations, is right in line with his purpose.

“I think being a representative of the Church and as a spiritual leader, it is my role to confront when there is inequality and work toward equality; when there is division, to work toward unity; when there is any form of hate or oppression, it is my role as a spiritual leader to lead the people of God back to a stance of love, unity, peace and justice for all,” Shaw said.

Evans said Shaw, considering his work in the community and historic leadership, was a fitting choice to serve as the guest chaplain.

“Father Shaw knows the history of the African Episcopal Church — St. Thomas is the oldest African-American Episcopal Church,” Evans said. “He also works with Together for West Philadelphia — trying to address poverty... This is a collaborative effort with Main Line Health and he is a leader in that, so it’s very appropriate for him to go to the next level for what he has done in the West Philadelphia community as a religious leader.”

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