Chris Coons’ interest in sharing the faith journeys of his Senate colleagues emerged from a revelation of its own: that one of the most productive and meaningful hours of his week was spent not on the Senate floor, in committee, or at a public event, but rather at a quiet, off-the-record gathering of Republican and Democratic senators who came together once a week to speak openly and listen faithfully to each other.
As a newly-elected senator, Chris quickly realized that the people he met at the weekly Senate Prayer Breakfast -- human beings of different faiths, backgrounds, and political parties -- looked nothing like the senators he saw on cable news or social media. The breakfast was an environment of collegiality and support, honesty and vulnerability, and shared humanity and spirituality. At a time of deep political divisions, with support for Congress and faith government as a whole continuing to ebb, Chris wanted to find a way to share with the American people the hopeful reality he witnessed every Wednesday morning. Profiles in Spirit was born. Chris’s journey from suburban Delaware to the United States Senate was a circuitous one. First elected in 2010, his lifelong commitments to faith, family, and public service reach deep into his childhood. He was raised by caring parents -- one a Congregationalist and the other a Unitarian -- who made sure he attended church every Sunday at Red Clay Creek Presbyterian in Wilmington, where he worships with his family to this day.
After growing up in a religious household but not feeling particularly spiritual himself, Chris reconnected more profoundly with his faith during a semester in Kenya as a junior in college. Not long after his graduation from Amherst College in 1985, Chris’ transformative experience in Africa would bring him back to the continent as a volunteer in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. Chris returned from this emotional and spiritual journey confident that he would spend his life seeking to live the values of his faith.
After working in cities and towns across the United States for the National Coalition of the Homeless, seeking to put the issue of homelessness on the domestic policy agenda during the 1988 presidential election, he enrolled in Yale Law School. There Chris began auditing courses in the university’s divinity school in his free time. He would ultimately graduate with both a J.D. from Yale Law and a Masters in Ethics from Yale Divinity School, a dual foundation of service and spirituality that would guide his life and career.
At Yale, Chris also helped form a prayer group of a dozen law students from diverse faith backgrounds and traditions. The group exposed him for the first time to the power of making time to pray and reflect with a group that was united only by a sense of yearning for a spiritual community. It was an experience he would seek, and find, in the Senate.
After going to work for the “I Have a Dream” Foundation in New York City, Chris met Annie Lingenfelter, the person he credits with making his political career possible and keeping him focused on the most important parts of his life: faith, family, and service. When Chris was was asked to run for New Castle County Council President in the late 1990s, it was Annie who reminded Chris that he’d grown up using New Castle public services and owed it to his community to serve. He spent the next decade as New Castle County President and County Executive, a role similar to that of a mayor, before his unexpected election to the United States Senate in 2010. Since then, no matter what his job calls for, he’s made time to attend the weekly the Senate Prayer Breakfast, to which he was first introduced by Delaware’s senior senator, Tom Carper.
Like both Carper and another well-known Delawarean, former Vice President Joe Biden, Chris commutes to and from Delaware nearly every day Congress is in session, making it a priority to be home at night for his kids’ homework, college applications, sports games, and acting performances. Wilmington, not Washington, is home for Chris and his family, which includes Jack and Mike, twins age X, Maggie, age X, and, of course, Annie.
During a challenging and divisive era in American politics, Chris has depended on the Senate Prayer Breakfast for strength, support, and inspiration. It is his hope that by illuminating the humanity and spirituality of his colleagues, Profiles in Spirit will serve to remind Americans that at the end of the day, the values that unite us are far stronger and far more significant than the political issues that divides us.