- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 26, 2002

Just getting a president to church especially under wartime security conditions can be a small military operation.Scores of policemen, dozens of White House personnel and support staff, a dozen Secret Service agents and members of the press make up the entourage.

But in contrast to President Clinton, who was seen regularly leaving Washington's Foundry United Methodist Church with a Bible tucked under his arm, the Bushes have not selected a regular house of worship.

"Religious faith is very important to the president, but he also knows that faith is a very personal thing," said Scott McClellan, deputy White House press secretary. "President and Mrs. Bush attend church on a regular basis, but at different locations, which are not disclosed until afterwards."

Some observers are critical of the Bushes for closely guarding their spiritual lives and for not joining a local congregation, regardless of security concerns.

"A president should be a public worshipper who serves as a model for the country, and as a Christian, he should be part of a regular congregation," said Allan Carlson, director of the Howard Center on Family, Religion and Society in Rockford, Ill.

"Christianity is a communitarian religion, and it would be appropriate for President Bush to find a church home in Washington."

The Bushes often attend Mass across the street from the White House at St. John's Episcopal Church at 1525 H St. on Lafayette Square, where Mr. Bush's father attended. Every president since James Madison has worshipped at St. John's at least once.

Mr. Bush has been spotted at St. John's a few times a month, but regularly seeks the wisdom of Camp David's Methodist head chaplain, the Rev. Robert Williams. First lady Laura Bush has praised Mr. Williams, who is a graduate of the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University her alma mater in Dallas for his sermons.

The Bushes attended services with Mr. Williams at Camp David's nondenominational Evergreen Chapel on Sept. 16, just after the terrorist attacks on Washington and New York. Mrs. Bush told the media she and her husband found it especially comforting to see the chapel's regular congregation display its faith, and to hear Mr. Williams quote Psalm 27.

But Mr. Williams who is restricted by the Secret Service from giving interviews will be reassigned within the month. National officials of the United Methodist Church say it would be "very rare" for the government to appoint another Methodist to the position.

"They like to rotate denominations at Camp David," said Pat Barrett, a spokeswoman for the national United Methodist registry in Nashville, Tenn.

The Bushes didn't have to scan the Yellow Pages to find a church when they arrived here 18 months ago.

More than 40 United Methodist congregations in the area laid out their welcome mats, and many believed the president would visit several before choosing one to join.

Many predicted he wouldn't join the liberal Foundry United Methodist on 16th Street in Northwest, as the Clintons did. Other churches the Bushes have attended include Clarendon Methodist, Asbury Methodist and the predominantly black Lincoln Park United Methodist on Capitol Hill.

Preachers at these churches regularly ask God for Mr. Bush's protection. Their sermons often cover political issues, ranging from racial unity to violence in the Middle East.

Mr. McClellan said the president's church-hopping is likely to continue.

Mr. Bush's attendance often is determined by locale. When living in Austin, Texas, he attended Tarrytown United Methodist Church. He is a member of Highland Park Methodist Church in Dallas. When on his ranch in Crawford, he most often attends Prairie Chapel.

But Mr. McClellan said Mr. Bush also has attended various Protestant churches in Waco, Texas, and elsewhere.

"President Bush understands that he represents many different people of faith," he said.

Mr. Bush's spiritual odyssey started at age 39 when he took a New England beach stroll in 1985 with the Rev. Billy Graham, who exhorted him to "get right" with God. He quit drinking a year later, eventually ran for governor of Texas and captured the U.S. presidency in 2000.

He attended Presbyterian and Episcopal churches throughout his life and became a Methodist when he married Laura Welch. In the two Methodist churches where he has held membership, he has been active teaching Sunday school, serving on budget committees and organizing events from Bible studies to capital campaigns.

Mr. Bush, who does not maintain a circle of regular "spiritual advisers" as Mr. Clinton did, invited 26 religious leaders to the White House on Sept. 20 to offer spiritual counsel and join hands in prayer.

Roman Catholic Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, part of the broad representation from the religious community, called it a significant moment in a time of crisis.

"I came away from that meeting, as I think all of us did, powerfully impressed by the president as a man of deep faith," he said.

President Reagan did not attend church. President Nixon had private services in the White House. President Kennedy attended Mass at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Georgetown.

"Bill Clinton wore his religion on his sleeve in a way that was inappropriate," said Mr. Carlson. "Jimmy Carter was a better model. He went to his church regularly, displayed a strong faith and didn't make a show out of it."

Others are happier that Mr. Bush is more ecumenical than his predecessor.

"You should be aware that St. John's holds to views that are strongly at odds with the traditional Christian views evidenced by the Bush family," Alan Dobras, a free-lance writer from Springfield, said in a recent letter to Karl Rove.

In the end, Mr. McClellan says, the president realizes that his religious example can't please everyone.

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