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The First Continental Congress met here in September, 1774 because their discussions made them unwelcome at the Pennsylvania State House as they met to critique and respond to the tyrannical actions of the British Parliament and King. Carpenters’ Hall was originally a guild hall for builders and craftsmen. The building was new and close to the government’s meeting place at the Pennsylvania State House which later became Independence Hall. Thus, it was an ideal place for the delegates to meet. What prompted the delegates to gather were continuing conflicts in Boston between the British governors and the Sons of Liberty, led by Samuel Adams, John Adams, John Hancock, Paul Revere and Dr. Joseph Warren.
The delegates’ common concerns brought them together, but they were unsure how to begin and organize their meeting. It was Samuel Adams who proposed that they should begin with prayer. This suggestion was remarkable, not because prayer was outlawed in government, like it seems to be today in many places, but because the different colonies had varying religious traditions and had yet to find a common ground for worship.
In a remarkable stroke of political genius and Christian charity, Samuel Adams, a Congregationalist, put aside prejudice and proposed that Rev. Jacob Duche, the Anglican minister at Christ Church, should be invited to lead their prayer. Everyone present understood that the Congregationalists and the Anglicans had a long history of conflict dating back to the English Civil War when the Puritans, under the leadership of Oliver Cromwell, beheaded the Anglican king, Charles I. Adams declared, “I hope I am not a bigot, and can hear a prayer from a gentleman of piety and virtue who is a friend to his country.”
And so, the first meeting of America’s government began with prayer. On the day appointed, Duche arrived in his ecclesiastical robe and led congress in prayer using the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. Those who were present for this prayer meeting included: Samuel Adams, John Adams, George Washington and other great patriots, such as Pennsylvanian, John Morton. John Adams later wrote home to his wife, Abigail, that God’s providence must have been overseeing the prayer service. The reason for this remark was that there had been rumors that the British army had just attacked the city of Boston and the biblical text prescribed by the Book of Common Prayer for that day was Psalm 35. Verse 1 states, “Plead my cause, O LORD, with them that strive with me: fight against them that fight against me” (KJV).
Duche began his prayer saying, “Our Lord, our Heavenly Father, high and mighty King of Kings, Lord of Lords, who dost from thy throne behold all the dwellers upon the earth, and reignest with power supreme and uncontrolled over all kingdoms, empires, and governments, look down in mercy, we beseech thee, upon these American States who have fled to Thee from the rod of the Oppressor, and thrown themselves upon Thy gracious protection, desiring to be henceforth dependent only upon Thee.”