- The Washington Times - Monday, April 13, 2009

President Obama on Easter Sunday attended church services for the first time since taking office, going with the politically and geographically easy choice of St. John's Episcopal Church, nicknamed the “church of the presidents” for its proximity to the White House and because every president since James Madison has attended.

Mr. Obama and the first family caused relatively little intrusion to the regular churchgoers, taking communion and greeting congregants who had to enter through a metal detector.

But White House aides said St. John's, the church favored by former President George W. Bush, is not necessarily Mr. Obama's final selection for a place of worship.

“The First Family has not made a decision yet on which church they will formally join in Washington, but they were honored to worship with the parishioners at St. John's Episcopal Church and at 19th Street Baptist Church earlier this year,” Joshua Dubois, head of the president's faith-based office, said in a statement.

It was the first time the president attended church since he went to a private service at St. John's on the morning of his Jan. 20 inauguration. He also attended Jan. 18 services at Nineteenth Street Baptist.

White House aides and family friends have been quietly checking out area churches to help Mr. Obama make the choice.

Sunday's upbeat, 90-minute service, led by the Rev. Luis Leon, the rector of St. John's, included colorful sports references and assurances that faith is “hard work.”

Mr. Leon, celebrating his 15th Easter service there, said he would not try to explain the resurrection, saying it is “one of those mysteries of the heart,” and, “it takes time to be a believer.”

“As much as we may want to have the whole thing wrapped up and resolved once and for all in one single episode of '60 Minutes,' faith cannot be forced and faith cannot be coerced. Faith is hard work,” he said. “Faith is often frustrating, faith is forever inconclusive.”

Mr. Leon joked, “the world lives in hope” because the Baltimore Orioles already have twice beaten the New York Yankees.

“I'm a fairly charitable person, but I have to tell you - I hate the Yankees,” he said, and laughter erupted from the pews.

Mr. Obama was dressed in a dark suit and his wife and daughters wore light-colored sweaters. They were seated about six rows from the front of the church and did not speak to the small group of reporters allowed to sit in the back pew during the 11 a.m. service.

Other than a brief “prayers of the people” mention of “Barack, our president,” along with members of Congress and the Supreme Court, the president's attendance was not mentioned during the service.

Mr. Obama bowed his head along with other congregants, took communion and smiled and warmly greeted parishioners who stopped at his pew.

Last Easter, Mr. Obama and his family escaped to the tropics as a furor raged over his Chicago church's pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. During a brief late March lapse in the long primary season, the Obamas took a several-day break in the U.S. Virgin Islands, arriving on Easter Sunday.

Because it was so early in the election season, Mr. Obama did not bring staff or the press along for his vacation, but some tourists from Ohio spotted him on the beach on Easter Sunday and snapped a photo that aired all day on Fox News. If he went to church in St. Thomas, it never became public.

Mr. Obama did sometimes attend church along the campaign trail - worshipping in small and large churches, and in battlegrounds from rural Pennsylvania to metropolitan Indiana.

If Mr. Obama were still considering the “church of the presidents” for a regular stint, Mr. Leon's message was one of welcoming.

“I'm not here to dampen the enthusiasm of those of you who can believe 100 percent of the time. I'm not here to mount any guilt on any of you who are skeptics,” the reverend said. “I'm not here to add any discomfort to any of you, who may be here for whatever reason drew you to this church today. To all of you, I say welcome, regardless of where you are in your journey of faith.”

“Knowledge can take us so far and then what is required is a leap of faith,” he added. “I think it's important that you believe in as much of God as you can today. And that's good enough. It's good enough because it's true, it's good enough because it's honest, it's good enough because God will accept it.”

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