Historic Church Will Host President-Elect on Big Day

By Jacqueline L. Salmon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 14, 2009

President-elect Barack Obama will attend a private prayer service on the morning of his inauguration at the historic St. John's Episcopal Church on Lafayette Square, according to the Presidential Inauguration Committee.

Kevin Griffis, spokesman for the inauguration committee, said yesterday that the prayer service will not be open to the public.

St. John's, across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House, is known as the "Church of the Presidents." Since James Madison, every president has worshiped there at some point during his tenure in the Oval Office. The church has kneelers embroidered in tribute to each president, and Pew 54 is traditionally assigned to the chief executives when they visit.

The Rev. Luis León, rector of the church, could not be reached for comment yesterday. But, like other churches in the District, Leon invited Obama after the election to attend his church, sending the president-elect a letter highlighting the historic nature of the house of worship.

"We, of course, would be delighted if he chose to attend here," Leon said in an interview in November.

The church, constructed in 1816, recently underwent an extensive renovation, including repainting its domed ceiling, reguilding the copper cupola and installing a pipe organ. It only recently reopened after the construction.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt started the tradition of attending a worship service before inauguration at St. John's. Since then, four other presidents have worshiped there on Inauguration Day, according to the church's Web site: Harry S. Truman, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.

And since Roosevelt, every president except Richard M. Nixon has attended a worship service on inauguration morning somewhere in the District.

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