June 7, 2023 at 3:53 p.m.
Holck serves as chaplain for state House, Senate
Politics and policymaking have long been an interest of Jacob Holck, pastor of United Methodist Church in Sauk Centre and Grey Eagle. Thanks to his service as a chaplain for the Minnesota House and Senate, he has been able to get an up-close perspective on the state’s legislative process as well as the legislators themselves.
“I preach every Sunday to my congregations, but this, you’re in the Capitol,” Holck said. “Both chambers are absolutely gorgeous, magnificent, and the legislators are there; these are people who’ve been elected by the people of Minnesota. They have the authority to do these things, and you’re just this pastor serving Sauk Centre and Grey Eagle. It’s a little nerve-wracking, but they’re kind people.”
The Capitol used to have formally appointed annual chaplains, but nowadays, state legislators select their guest chaplains; Holck’s uncle, David Webster, a Lutheran pastor, had previously been a chaplain at the Capitol. Holck recently moved to Sauk Centre, but when he lived in Paynesville, District 13A Representative Lisa Demuth, now the Minnesota House minority leader, put in Holck’s name for House chaplain. He accepted and served in that role in 2022, and after that, District 13 Senator Jeff Howe put in Holck’s name to be a Senate chaplain, and Holck accepted when he was contacted by the senate secretary.
Recently, Holck served as Senate chaplain May 10 and as House chaplain May 15. His duties have, overall, covered the last few weeks of the session.
“It gets really crazy over there during the end of session,” Holck said. “The Monday (May 15) I was there, it was a very busy day. They were working on their public safety bill, which was some 650 pages, and there was a significant debate.”
That day, Holck was on the House floor starting a half-hour before they gaveled in at 10 a.m. Aside from a break for meetings and caucusing from 12-3:30 p.m., the meeting lasted until around midnight.
“It was interesting to see the spirited debate among both sides and the points they raised,” Holck said. “When you watch it on TV or online, you get a perspective of it’s a giant room and everyone’s listening. Really, nobody’s listening; there are all of these side conversations going on … There’s so much more conversation and informality going on in the house.”
On the Senate side, though, Holck finds proceedings to be more formal. For instance, the Senate appeared to have a stricter dress code than the House, and beverages must be consumed in the retiring room instead of in the chamber. Consequently, Holck is usually more comfortable giving his opening prayer in the House than the Senate.
“In the Senate, it’s nerve-wracking because everything’s more formal,” Holck said. “I don’t want to slip up at all. There’s always that fear, but I did pretty well this year.”
When the meeting is underway, Holck remains in the chamber to listen to the debates. As a political science major and district director for the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition, he finds these meetings interesting.
“I like to go, specifically, during the last few weeks of session because I find that’s when you’re needed the most – when things are not necessarily toxic but when things are really heightened and tensions are high,” Holck said. “They talk more, they lean on you a little more, they’re a little more conversational, and that’s when I can be the most help to those people.”
Through his chaplain duties, Holck has garnered friendly connections with legislators in the House and Senate. Once he has opened the meeting with prayer, Holck will often advise a few of the lawmakers who come to him for spiritual counseling, prayers or feedback on what they are discussing.
“It’s an experience to do these things, but we sometimes think of our legislators just as their policies and positions on things,” Holck said. “But, when you get to visit with them one-on-one as a fellow human being or in a pastoral role, it’s then you realize they’re just normal people too. We just might not agree on everything.”
Holck is also familiar with the Minnesota Capitol building. Back when he served on the Paynesville School Board as a legislation delegate, he would often be at the Capitol. The only place he gets lost is in the basement’s tunnels.
Holck will be returning to the Capitol for both House and Senate duty during the next legislative session once he picks times that will work for him. He looks forward to sitting with the legislators in the chambers and hearing the debates.
“It’s not a pretty process,” Holck said. “Being on the House floor and Senate floor, being in committee hearings, seeing these things take place – seeing with your own eyes rather than just hearing about it on the news – that’s pretty powerful because you can say, yep I know this happened. … It’s powerful, knowing you can be part of this democratic process, and that’s what I like about being a chaplain. I can experience that democracy firsthand.”