- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 20, 2008

D.C. churches have started extending invitations to President-elect Barack Obama and his family, touting their black roots, their ties to presidents past and to Mr. Obama.

Mr. Obama and his family will have plenty of choices within a short walk of their new home at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Just across Lafayette Square from the White House is St. John’s Church, an Episcopal parish known as the “Church of the Presidents,” where presidents as far back as James Madison have worshipped. St. John’s has a standing invitation: Pew 54 is the President’s Pew, reserved for the country’s leader.

President Bush occasionally went to St. John’s but rarely attended services in the District.

Whatever choice Mr. Obama makes it will be in light of his relationship with the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., who was Mr. Obama’s pastor for 20 years at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago.

Mr. Obama, a Democrat, resigned from Trinity during the presidential campaign after inflammatory comments by Mr. Wright from the pulpit became a campaign issue.

Nick Shapiro, a spokesman for Mr. Obama’s transition, declined to discuss which church the Obamas might attend.

Mr. Obama has spoken frequently about the importance of his Christian faith. In his 2006 book, “The Audacity of Hope,” he wrote that “the historically black church offered me a second insight: that faith doesn’t mean that you don’t have doubts, or that you relinquish your hold on this world. … You needed to come to church precisely because you were of this world, not apart from it.”

Despite those words, Mr. Obama has attended church sparingly in the past several months. Since winning the election, he has spent Sunday mornings at the gym.

At Metropolitan AME Church, a historic, predominantly black congregation six blocks from the White House, senior pastor Ronald Braxton says parishioners are excited about the possibility that Mr. Obama, wife Michelle, and their daughters - Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7 - might attend services with them.

Mr. Braxton said it would be good if Mr. Obama resumed worshipping at a congregation rooted in the black community.

“He’s familiar with African-American worship traditions,” he said, referring to Mr. Obama’s membership at Mr. Wright’s church in Chicago. “Metropolitan AME would be a wise a choice and a safe haven in which to worship.”

Metropolitan AME has about 2,000 members, including former Clinton administration insider Vernon E. Jordan Jr., and former Transportation Secretary Rodney E. Slater, Mr. Braxton said. Frederick Douglass also worshipped and was eulogized there, and President Clinton attended inaugural prayer services there in 1993 and 1997.

Mr. Braxton said the AME denominational leadership is developing plans to extend a formal invitation.

Church member Michael Horton said the congregation could provide the Obamas a base of moral support.

“Our current congregation is full of ‘agents-for-change,’” he said, playing on one of Mr. Obama’s campaign themes. “I believe there is no better place for the Obamas to worship and feel comfortable.”

The Clintons regularly attended Foundry United Methodist Church, at 1500 16th St. NW, about a mile from the White House, during their administration but never formally became members.

Senior pastor Dean Snyder said the congregation generally remembers the Clintons’ time there fondly, with sporadic complaints about security lines and metal detectors.

Mr. Snyder, whose congregation strongly supports gay rights and gay marriage, said the church also has outreach plans to all new arrivals associated with the change in administration.

The United Church of Christ, the denomination from which Mr. Obama resigned when he left Mr. Wright’s church, issued a written invitation to join a UCC denomination in the District and resume his connections to the church.

The UCC is mostly white, a descendant of New England Puritanism. But the denomination is diverse racially and culturally, stemming in part from the church’s extensive involvement in the abolitionist movement.

“It would be an honor for the Obamas to attend a UCC church,” said Nathan Harris, pastor at Lincoln Congregational Temple, a small UCC congregation in the 1700 block of 11th Street Northwest.

Randall Balmer, a professor of American religious history at Columbia University who wrote “God in the White House: How Faith Shaped the Presidency from John F. Kennedy to George W. Bush,” said there is no obvious choice for Mr. Obama. He also said Americans generally like to know their president goes to church on Sunday but tend not to be concerned about the denomination. “I’m sure he’s going to be careful. He got burned,” Mr. Balmer said, referring to the Wright controversy.

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