Obama attends Easter services at personally important Baptist church
WASHINGTON (CNN) — President Barack Obama attended Easter services at the 19th Street Baptist Church on Sunday, a house of worship that he visited the Sunday before he was first inaugurated President in 2009.
There were a number of similarities between Obama’s 2009 and 2014 appearances at the historic Baptist church, including the Reverend Dr. Derrick Harkins, who oversaw both services.
“Let me just say, to the first family, to the President of the United States, Barack Obama, to the first lady of the United States, and Miss Malia and Sasha, we welcome you,” Harkins said on Sunday, according to a pool reporter at the service.
Harkins instructed worshipers to welcome the opportunity to “surround” the Obama family with “prayers … [they] certainly deserve.”
The congregation then stood and applauded the Obamas, something worshipers did in 2009 as the then-President-elect and his family entered the church. When worshipers were asked to stand and greet others in attendance, a number of people bunched around the first family for about five minutes. The president, according to the pool report, also shook hands with a secret service member sitting behind him.
Harkins directed part of Sunday’s prayer at the President, asking God to “Bestow upon him a wisdom that indeed comes from you … Even yes, when the light of a flame turns into the harsh glare of criticism, tend to his spirit.”
Harkins, who preached from Luke 24:13-32, spoke about supporting people “living in the shadows and the margins,” including “LGBT” people and the low wage worker, according to the pool report. The pastor also referred to God as “the chief executive of chief executives,” a refrain that elicited applause from other worshipers.
During the service, Obama dropped a white paper or envelope into the silver contribution plate that was distributed throughout the church.
The 19th Street Baptist Church was founded in 1839 and was first known as the First Colored Church of Washington. After 135 years at the same location — 19th and I Street N.W. — the church moved to its present location on 16th Street N.W.
When the first family attended the church in 2009, Harkins acknowledged Obama’s attendance by ending a prayer with the theme of the Obama campaign, adding “yes we can” to “in the name of Jesus we pray, amen.”
In 2013, the first family attended Easter services at St. John’s Episcopal Church, a historic house of worship just across the street from the White House. St. John’s is known informally as “the church of the Presidents” and has a pew dedicated and reserved for the President.
Before assuming the presidency, Obama and his family were members at the Trinity Church of Christ on Chicago’s South Side. Obama left the church during his 2008 campaign after Rev. Jeremiah Wright, his former pastor, made controversial comments about race in America.
Obama has not become a member of a church since assuming the White House in 2009. But on Sunday, the White House pointed out that the first family has attended services at many churches in Washington, including the Washington National Cathedral, Allen Chapel A.M.E. Church and Vermont Avenue Baptist Church.
Obama used his weekly address to send Easter and Passover wishes on Saturday. In remarks to people of all faiths, “believer or nonbeliever,” the President noted the special time of year, for Christians and Jews especially, and called on all to “love and serve one another, particularly ‘the least of these’ among us.”
“This Sunday, Michelle, Malia, Sasha, and I will join our fellow Christians around the world in celebrating the Resurrection of Christ, the salvation he offered the world, and the hope that comes with the Easter season,” Obama said. “These holy days have their roots in miracles that took place long ago. And yet, they still inspire us, guide us, and strengthen us today.”
By Dan Merica
CNN’s Steve Brusk and Conor Finnegan contributed to this report.