- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 25, 2001

Since President Bush's religious convictions are no secret, the question now is where the president will choose to attend church.

A member of the Highland Park Methodist Church in Dallas, Mr. Bush is the first Methodist president since William McKinley in 1897. Vice President Richard B. Cheney and his wife, Lynne, are also Methodists.

But choosing just one of the 40 or more United Methodist churches in the District could be difficult. The president does not necessarily have to stay inside the District of Columbia or even within his denomination. Vast "megachurches" in the suburbs would gladly welcome his attentions.

Mark Tooley, the United Methodist director at the Institute on Religion and Democracy, hopes Mr. Bush will consider the Metropolitan Memorial United Methodist Church on Nebraska Avenue in Northwest, Lincoln Park United Methodist Church on Capitol Hill or Asbury Methodist Church on 11th and K streets in Northwest.

However, as Mr. Tooley notes, many of the predominately white Methodist churches are more centrist to liberal leaning. Mr. Bush, who says he experienced a "born again" religious experience years ago with the help of an evangelist, the Rev. Billy Graham, is more conservative.

"If Bush were looking for a more conservative church, he'll need to look at the black churches," said Mr. Tooley, referring to the Lincoln Park and the Asbury congregations.

Following his plan to keep his administration from bearing even the slightest resemblance to his predecessor's, it seems unlikely that Mr. Bush would choose to attend the more liberal Foundry United Methodist, about a mile from the White House, because the Clintons went there.

Asbury Methodist Church, one of Mr. Tooley's suggestions, was founded by the black population that broke off from Foundry United Methodist Church in 1836.

The Rev. Eugene W. Matthews, Asbury's senior pastor, says the invitation to attend has been extended to Mr. Bush. He notes that several members of the Asbury congregation have had professional ties in past years with Mr. Bush's family, including one member whose son sits on Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's Cabinet.

"I think it is unlikely he has made any decision," said United Methodist News Service Director Thomas McAnally. "He will find a church that reflects his own view on the faith."

Other presidents have had their spiritual needs met at a variety of places. Mr. Bush's father attended St. John's Episcopal Church on Lafayette Park. President Reagan did not attend church. President Nixon had services in the White House, and President Kennedy attended Mass at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Georgetown. Presidents Eisenhower, Lincoln and Jackson all worshipped at Presbyterian churches.

Dean Snyder, director of communications at the Baltimore/D.C. Conference of the United Methodist Church, believes Mr. Bush will visit several congregations before deciding on one.

"Many people do some church shopping," he said.

Bishop Felton Edwin May, the episcopal leader of 702 United Methodist congregations in eastern West Virginia, Maryland and the District, "fully expects" that Mr. Bush will be able to find a satisfactory church within the denomination.

"The United Methodist Church includes wide political and theological diversity," Bishop May said in a statement. "I am confident that the president will be able to find a church that nurtures his faith and supports his family's spiritual life."


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