“They are coming to worship. Let the church say ‘Amen!’ ” Byrd told the congregation moments before the Obamas arrived. “How many people believe that the first family deserves the right to worship? . . . Let the church say ‘Amen!’ ”
Although many just wanted to spend a morning with the first family, others had hopes the Obamas would choose their church exclusively. The Obamas have not joined a Washington congregation.
Since becoming president, Obama has made one-time visits to Nineteenth Street Baptist, Vermont Avenue Baptist, Allen African Methodist Episcopa, Metropolitan AME and Shiloh Baptist. He has attended St. John’s Episcopal Church several times — most recently in December — but the Obamas have been only occasional churchgoers.
Each time the president has stepped into an African American church in the District since his inauguration — six times, to be exact — his visit has been preceded by stern warnings from pastors to their flocks to be courteous and respectful in the hopes of wooing the first family. But pastors and members of the churches he has attended have resigned themselves to the fact that Obama might visit but most likely won’t join.
Last year, the Rev. Marie Braxton, wife of the Rev. Ronald Braxton, made a friendly appeal from the pulpit to Michelle Obama to join Metropolitan AME. Marie Braxton even led the church in singing “Happy Birthday” to her and gave her a gift. In the end, the first family worshipped quietly and headed back to the White House a few blocks away.
“When Jimmy Carter was president, it is my understanding that he taught Sunday school at First Baptist Church of Washington, D.C., but times have so drastically changed,” Ronald Braxton said. “Security, especially for this president, has to be so tight. It takes a lot of planning and preparation.
“I believe that he is a man of great faith. He has taken the opportunity over the last four years to visit various churches and denominations,” Braxton said. “I firmly believe that he has been able to survive what he has been through because of his faith.”
Four years ago, speculation abounded in pulpits across the city as to which church the Obamas would attend. Several pastors sent formal invitations, and White House officials fielded calls from people who hoped the president would join their church.
The Rev. Derrick Harkins, pastor of the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church and director of faith outreach for the Democratic National Committee, said Obama is a strong man of faith.
“The president has spoken and acted on his personal faith in a profound way many times,” Harkins said. “He has talked profoundly about being a committed Christian many times over. He is a man of prayer. He has spoken a lot about his faith, more than many of his predecessors.”