A minister pictured with President Carter in yesterday's editions was incorrectly identified. He is the Rev. Charles R. Sanks Jr., associate pastor of First Baptist Church at 16th and O streets NW.
President and Mrs. Carter and several members of their family joined the 175-year-old First Baptist Church here yesterday after being warmly received in church school and Sunday service by members of the integrated congregation.
The Carter family's decision to join First Baptist ended a lively competition between several Baptist churches here for the President's congregational affiliation. Mr. Carter said he chose First Baptist, which is near the White House at 16th and O Streets NW, because it was "the preference of some of our children" who recently had visited other churches in Washington.
The Carters joined the church after the sermon while the congregation stood singing "O Jesus, I have promised," Mr. and Mrs. Carter, their son Chip and his wife Caron, daughter-in-law Annette and daughter Amy, walked toward the altar and were welcomed by the senior minister, Dr. Charles A. Trentham. The President's son, Jeff, was present but did not join.
"Mr. President next to the privilege of serving the Lord, I count this the highest privilege of my career. This church undergirds you and surrounds your family with prayers," Dr. Trentham said, with his arms stretched wide at the front of the church.
Dr. Trentham will baptize Amy, 9, by immersion within a few weeks since she never has joined a church.
The President revealed he had been considering the church since his meeting with the former pastor, Dr. Edward Hughes Pruden, in Raleigh, N.C., "more than a year ago." President Harry S. Truman worshipped at First Baptist when Dr. Pruden was pastor.
By selecting First Baptist, a tall stone Gothic structure in the stately neighborhood off Scott Circle and Massachusetts Avenue, the Carter's ruled out Calvary Baptist, the same distance from the White House but eastward in the deteriorating Chinatown neighborhood.
"Calvary is a very nice church, but we couldn't go to both," the President said.
The President and First Lady attended the "couples class, taught for the first time by Fred Gregg, a life insurance executive in Washington.
"I have had many different kinds of beginnings," Gregg remarked to the 70 persons present, "but I must say this is a beginning I'll long remember."
The President impressed his teacher by answering the first question posed to the class: "What story preceeds this story (the day's lesson) in the Bible?" Carter replied: "The Good Samaritan."
"Mr. President," Gregg responded, "you know this Bible real good. You help me out." Later Gregg said, "There's nothing superficial about his Biblical knowledge. He knew that answer without even having studied the lesson."
"By answering the first question, the President broke the ice," Gregg noted. "Everyone settled down."
Carter also told Gregg he would like to teach the Bible class "once a month or every six weeks," beginning in a few Sundays.
During a half-hour coffee break between Sunday school and church, the President and First Lady were surrounded by members and visitors who politely introduced themselves.
"I feel welcome," a relaxed Mr. Carter said with a wide smile on several occasions. He graciously mingled with the crowd. At one point he spilled some coffee on his color-coded Bible.
Iris Hatcher, president of the church's Dawson Bible Class, a women's group whose motto is "the class of the loving hearts," asked the President to teach a class sometime.
"He said he would," she said.
At 11 a.m. the Carters entered the vaulted sanctuary where tall stained glass windows depict such figures as Martin Luther and Booker T. Washington. They sat eight rows from the front on the right, a location selected for them as the best in the house by the ministers.
Although the Carters attendance was not disruptive, the service clearly focused on them. Dr. Pruden, who participated, prayed aloud thanking God for Mr. Carter's "Christian commitment, his devotion to the best interests of our country and his compassion for the unemployed and the disadvantaged."
Dr. Trentham, a polished and composed preacher , stood in the pulpit and said, "Suppose you had the responsibility of preaching the first sermon the President of the United States would hear after his inauguration? Where would you begin?"
Trentham, a Biblical scholar with a Ph. D. in moral philosophy, chose the theme, "To Begin Again."
"God offers to be with us in all our beginnings," he said.
After the sermon, the Carters walked forward to become members. Also received as an associate member, a status for temporary residents, was William Hinton, a black North Carolinian.
Dr. Trentham explained later that the Carters will have to learn about the church and its history, be reviewed by a membership committee and be voted on by the congregation, a month-long process he described as "a formality."
Dr. Trentham, 57, was pastor of First Baptist Church in Knoxville, Tenn, for 21 years and dean of the University of Tennessee School of Religion before becoming senior pastor of the 950-member First Baptist congregation here.
The church's members are largely professional and government workers, middle aged and older, and residents of the entire area. About 50 members are black.
"This is an open, friendly church," said Joan Wing of Vienna. She and her husband, Dale, a Sioux, have been members since 1971. "It is a church where a number of thinking and feeling people have gathered with concern and constant awareness. We have a sense of individual and collective dedication and a lot of fun."