Don't look for Ronald Reagan to join a Washington church and start teaching Sunday school as did Jimmy Carter.
Reagan is much more likely to take his churchgoing cues from Lyndon Johnson and casually drop in on a Sunday morning on whatever congregation suits his fancy -- or at least as casually as Secret Services sweeps, security clearances for ministers and choir, motorcade provisions and traffic blocks will permit.
It had been widely assumed in some church circles that the Reagans would automatically join the National Presbyterian Church on Nebrasksa Avenue NW, whose pastor, the Rev. Dr. Louis Evans, is a fellow Californian. Reagan is scheduled to attend services there today.
But Evans said yesterday that he has no indication that it is to be a permanent relationship. "We have had absolutely no clues that there is going to be anything but occasional visits," Evans said. "I suspect they may want to look around a little bit."
Several other churches, including National City Christian and New York Avenue Presbyterian, have received no replies to their invitations to the Reagans to attend.
"The word is that he will be visiting around in a lot of churches," said one usually well-informed pastor who declined to be identified.
Reagan's churchgoing habits have been considerably more casual than Carter's aggressively Baptist loyalties. Born and brought up in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) demonination, he has left his formal membership in a congregation of that denomnation, the Hollywood Beverly Christian Church, although his participation in that church for decades has involved little more than sending a check periodically.
In recent years the Reagans have attended Bel Air Presbyterian Church. The attraction there, reportedly, is more to the church's pastor, the Rev. Donn D. Moomaw, an ebullient, ex-all-American football star, than to the church itself. Moomaw has been invited to give both the invocation and benediction at the inauguration -- an occasion that previous presidents have usually grasped to demonstrate their commitment to America's religious pluralism.
Speculation that the Reagans would occupy a regular pew at National Presbyterian here was fueled by the fact the the Bel Air church in California was founded by Evans in 1956. Evans indicated yesterday, however, that the Reagans did not attend regularly during his tenure at Bel Air.
"In 1963, when Mr. Reagan began to become active in his pursuit of the gubernatorial office, he visited a few times," Evans said. "We called on them and encouraged them to join, but they never did."
Becoming a presidential church can be a mixed blessing for a congregation and its pastor. Balanced against whatever prestige accrues are the restrictions of movement imposed by the Secret Service for security reasons, the intrusions and constant scrutiny by the media and, in recent years, the need to cope with protesters and demonstrators eager to seize any opportunity to press their cause on the president.
The tensions that built up under these pressures are widely believed to have contributed to the dissatisfaction that led the congregation of First Baptist Church here to dismiss the Rev. Dr. Charles Trentham, who had been Carter's pastor, after a bitter church fight two years ago.
Vice President George Bush and his wife are Episcopalians, longtime members of St. Martin's Episcopal Church in Houston. They have attended St. Columba's Episcopal Church in Friendship Heights here and they also haved ties to the Washington Cathedral, but it is not expected that they will transfer their membership from the Texas parish.