Ecumenically, there hadn't been anything quite like it since the pope came to town. Politically, ditto.
The Georgetown Baptist Church was overflowing with a crowd of several hundred yesterday. In the pulpit was Billy Graham and in the congregation were President Jimmy Carter and Vice President-elect George Bush.
Henry Kissinger never quite made it to church, though he admitted later, over lunch across the street at Sen. Mark Hatfield's house, that being born again had its advantages. "It's worked for some others," he said.
Even Billy Graham, who has seen some turnouts in his time, seemed impressed that Hatfield, the Oregon Republican who arranged the whole thing, had managed to pull it off. "Quite something for a little Baptist church to have the president and the vice president-elect there at the same times," said Graham, shaking hands and signing autographs near Antoinette Hatfield's apple pie.
The Rev. Paul L. Merritts, pastor, had put it a little differently to the audience. After four years, they finally had succeeded in getting the country's other best-known Baptists, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, to come to the church in Georgetown -- "even if we had to get a special speaker" to do it.
Hatfield said Billy Graham "owed me one" for once chairing Graham's Oregon crusade. And throughout Carter's White House tenancy, Hatfield said, the president often talked of going to Hatfield's church in Georgetown. s
Finally it came together, and then Saturday night George Bush, an Episcopalian and friend of Graham's, got wind of it and called Hatfield to ask if he would be intruding by coming.
"I said, 'My goodness, no. President Carter and all of us would like to make a Baptist of you anyway,'" said Hatfield.
Bush, who had been asked by Merritts to "hold up your hand," in church, seemed to hit it off with Carter at the party. "At least, I noticed they were friendly," said Joy Baker, whose husband, Sen. Howard Baker, was at a Nevada testimonial banquet for Sen. Paul Laxalt.
Carter, smiling graciously in a sea of Republicans, seemed uncertain about what was expected of him when he, Rosalynn and Amy first arrived in the Hatfields' living room. Then gradually people started coming forward to talk.
Asked about reports that he planned to go into missionary work, Carter said, "I doubt that -- I don't have any plans."
The Rev. Charles Trentham, former pastor of the First Baptist Church of Washington, said his former parishioner was weathering his defeat with "pure class all the way."
"I told him a moment ago that we're in an era where presidents will not have second terms, their problems are so manifold. And he said he was thinking the same thing," said Trentham.
Kissinger, too, got in a few remarks, over near the baked ham. Jimmy Carter, he said, "wanted to know what to do about the hostage crisis.Of course I told him. And he'll follow [my advice] on Jan. 21."
Kissinger said he was at the party because of a longstanding friendship with Billy Graham. "I went to see one of his crusades 20 years ago because I wanted to see what it was like, and I was very condescending about it. But at Madison Square Garden I was so moved that I thought I ought to meet him. I was totally unknown at the time and I made a real effort. I think he's a man of great substance, a man of great value," said Kissinger.
The president whistled up a White House photographer to have his picture taken with Dawn Bonkers, the 5 1/2-month-old adopted daughter of Rep. Don Bonkers (D-Wash.), who didn't bother concealing his excitement over the day's events. "The three men I admire most in life were there this morning -- President Carter, Billy Graham and Mark Hatfield," said Bonkers.
Hatfield, whose praise of Carter's "bold" proclamation of faith had brought applause in church earlier, said "the spirit of the Lord" had brought them all together.
Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) offered another view.
"Somebody in back of me said, 'If the Lord looked down now he'd think it was Easter.'"