Or St. Nowhere’s?
In a report disputed by the White House, TIME’s Amy Sullivan writes that the much-anticipated decision on where the Obama’s would worship has been settled, and instead of joining a congregation in Washington, Obama will do like W. and worship at Evergreen Chapel, the nondenominational church at Camp David. This ends a long church hunt familiar to many who move, especially with young children. But of course, few of us happen to be the POTUS. Sullivan writes:
“A number of factors drove the decision — financial, political, personal — but chief among them was the desire to worship without being on display. Obama was reportedly taken aback by the circus stirred up by his visit to 19th Street Baptist in January. Lines started forming three hours before the morning service, and many longtime members were literally left out in the cold as the church filled with outsiders eager to see the new President. Even at St. John’s, which is so accustomed to presidential visitors that it is known as the “Church of the Presidents,” worshippers couldn’t help themselves from snapping photos of Obama on their camera phones as they walked down the aisle past him to take communion.”
But at USNews, Dan Gilgoff reports the White House as saying no way, the search is still on:
The President and First Family continue to look for a church home. They have enjoyed worshipping at Camp David and several other congregations over the months, and will choose a church at the time that is best for their family.
The decision is fraught, and the Camp David choice wouldn’t seem as isolating as I imagined. The chapel draws upwards of 70 people each Sunday to its ”nondenominational Christian services,” which are open to the nearly 400 military personnel and staff at Camp David and their families. A Navy chaplain and nephew of Johhny Cash–and a Southern Baptist!–is the current pastor. A long ways from Jeremiah Wright. The late Cardinal James Hickey of Washington delivered a sermon calling the chapel a “witness to our common belief that we need to seek divine guidance in the conduct of our national affairs,” Sullivan writes.
Still…I hope Obama does choose a congregation, embedded in the community and part of a distinct and longstanding tradition, as he did before. There are many understandable factors working against such a choice. As Gilgoff notes:
George W. Bush, who was perceived as intensely religious, could afford to worship quietly at Camp David. Obama, who’s still establishing himself as a Christian in the public eye and who continues to battle false rumors that he’s a Muslim, could afford to flaunt his Sunday-morning habits a bit more.
Sticking with Evergreen Chapel (jeez, what a name) does cut a president off from the negotiations, as it were, that come from commitment to any larger community. And those negotiations are part of the journey of faith. But they’re young. Maybe after 2016–or 2012?–they’ll be free to choose another church.
For now, conservative Catholics are just happy the Obamas aren’t becoming Catholic, as the White House confirmed last week. And I, for one, hope he doesn’t go the “C Street” route that did so much for Mark Sanford’s personal growth…
BTW, anyone know where the W. Bush’s are worshipping these days? Not much easier for ex-presidents to take a pew anonymously.