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Episcopal priest gave invocation at Republican National Convention


The Rev. Robert Certain, an Episcopal priest who was a former prisoner of war in Vietnam, opened the Republican National Convention evening session on September 2 with prayer.

Certain asked God to “grant wisdom and grace” to President Bush and other U.S. leaders and that the presidential, vice-presidential and other political candidates be granted the “courage to face the rigors of the campaign (and) honesty and integrity to cast a vision of unity, progress and liberty.”

He also asked God to “teach our people to rely on your strength, and to accept their responsibilities to their fellow citizens, that they may put country first, elect trustworthy leaders and make wise decisions for the well-being of our society.”

He wasn’t quite sure how the invitation came about, said Certain. A few years ago, however, he invited Sen. John McCain, slated to be the Republican presidential nominee, to share his “spiritual journey” at a parish meeting in Georgia.

When asked before his appearance what he was prepared to say, Certain chuckled: “I’m an Episcopalian. Of course, I went to the Book of Common Prayer, to the prayers for the nation in the back.”

Certain’s parishioners at St. Peter and St. Paul, Marietta, Georgia, where he serves as interim rector, weren’t making political hay of all the attention. “I’m very flattered that they think it’s a good idea,” he said. “Both Democrats and Republicans have been patting me on the back and giving me good wishes.”

“I’ve never been a political grandstander or endorser or that sort of thing,” Certain said. “I’ve always tried to teach my people to think theologically, to pray diligently, to listen for the guidance of the Holy Spirit and then go to the ballot box and vote their conscience, whatever that is—recognizing that half will probably vote with one party and half with the other and that’s fine with me.”

Certain is no stranger to the political limelight, however. As Gerald Ford’s personal pastor, in December, 2006 he led the nation in mourning the former president, officiating at services in Washington, D.C. and at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Palm Desert, California where he served as rector.

He retired from St. Margaret’s in 2007 and returned to his “Georgia roots” in Marietta.
Certain and McCain were both prisoners of war at the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” prison camp although they didn’t actually meet until after their release.

As a combat aviator, Certain flew 100 missions over Southeast Asia in 1971 and 1972. “I flew B-52s in Vietnam and was shot down in the final raids against Hanoi,” Certain recalled during a recent telephone interview from his Marietta residence. “I was released after 100 days in captivity.” McCain was imprisoned for more than five years; the two men met at a reunion gathering for POWs.

After his return from Vietnam, Certain earned a master of divinity degree from the University of the South School of Theology in Sewanee, Tennessee and was ordained a priest in 1976.

In 1990, he was awarded his Doctor of Ministry degree from the School of Theology and had served as a military chaplain on active duty and in the reserves. He also is a graduate of the Air War College. He retired from the Air Force Reserves in 1999 with the rank of Colonel. He has also served parishes in Texas, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Arizona.

After the convention, Certain, who published his autobiography, Unchained Eagle: From Prisoner of War to Prisoner of Christ in 2003, headed for Washington, D.C., where he was slated to make a presentation to the Defense Health Board about the long-term effects of combat. He is a presidential appointee to the board, which advises the Department of Defense on health policy issues concerning military personnel.

He is married to the former Robbie Wade of Blytheville, Arkansas and father of two grown children. He is the founder and president of the Unchained Eagle Memorial and Benevolent Society, Inc. The Memorial Society helped to build a POW/MIA Memorial at the Riverside National Cemetery in Riverside, California.

“I come (to the board) as a combat vet and former POW who has had my own struggles with post combat issues for about 30 years,” he said.


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