A pastor, a caseworker at a homeless shelter and a press secretary — it’s not a typical career path for someone on Capitol Hill, but Marcus Barlow wouldn’t have it any other way.
At 27, he serves as press secretary to Rep. Chris Chocola (R-Ind.). And he seems to live life with a go-with-the-flow, carefree attitude rare these days on Capitol Hill.
Barlow graduated from the University of Norte Dame with a degree in public policy and went to work as an assistant pastor at the Assemblies of God Revival Tabernacle Church in Highland Park, Mich. Barlow was raised in the Church of God in Christ, which he said is a more exuberant, charismatic version of Assemblies of God.
His father and grandfather were both pastors, so his entire life people assumed he would follow in their footsteps.
“I thought I might as well see if I like it, but I didn’t,” Barlow says.
Within a year, he began to have “serious doubts” about spending his life in the clergy “I remember being at the point where I didn’t feel like I could tell people with 100 percent certainty what they should be doing,” he says.
Although he is still active in the church, he converted to Catholicism as a result of his experience. He declines to talk about his conversion in depth, saying only that it was a difficult spiritual decision.
Barlow wasn’t certain what to do after his brief experience in the ministry, but he wanted to do something that would help people. He soon landed a job as a case manager at the South Bend Center for the Homeless.
Thirty homeless men reported to Barlow, who acted much like their probation officer. He evaluated the factors that led to their homelessness and wrote treatment plans to address the men’s needs.
“Working five days a week is not normal for them, so we need to teach them things like how to work with others,” he says.
That experience gave him a different view on the homeless people he passes every day in D.C. He doesn’t give money but sometimes buys them a meal.
“The main question I ask myself is, ‘What kind of choices did these people make to get to this place?’” Barlow says.
While still working at the homeless shelter, Barlow decided to volunteer with Chocola’s election campaign.
“I thought he was a good guy,” Barlow says.
It wasn’t the envelope-stuffing that Barlow imagined, and he quickly rose in the ranks to become the grassroots coordinator for Chocola’s campaign.
The race was nationally targeted, and soon Barlow caught the political bug.
“It was very exciting,” he says. “We never slept, and there was always stuff to do.”
When Chocola won, Barlow began working in his South Bend district office, where military casework and veterans issues were his specialties.
“We used to help veterans get their benefits,” he recalls. “It was an incredible experience, being able to help people out there from your district.”
Most nights, at least when he remembers, he prays for his boss. He also prays for wisdom and safety for the president and vice president, but praying for Democrats is a different story. The question elicits a pause and a hearty laugh.
“Well I have,” he says, before concluding, “I pray for the senators.”
Though Barlow has been working in Chocola’s D.C. office for two months, he expresses an unshakable belief in the congressman. “[Chocola] was like, ‘Do you want to come out to a city that you’ve never been to?’ It’s not all the time that you have someone that you would follow like that.”
Barlow sees his job as press secretary as another way to help people: “A lot of the stuff we do here has an effect on people lives. It’s just a greater number of people.”
Of course, being a flack also has its lows.
Constituents often call Chocola’s office to say Congress is corrupt. He acknowledges some corruption but says the media are mostly to blame for negative perceptions. The media often report what is controversial, he says, and don’t pay enough attention to the good work that lawmakers do.
It’s fortunate that Barlow agrees with most of Chocola’s stands on the issues, and he says he has never compromised his religious beliefs for his career.
He offers an example: “My boss is pro-life, so I don’t have to write releases that I don’t agree with.”
For now, Barlow is content in his current post. “I’m not thinking about the next step” because, he notes, “then I wouldn’t be enjoying now.”