January 18th, 2009
04:27 PM ET
14 years ago

Obamas visit DC church - but will it be a new spiritual home?

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/01/18/art.obamas2.jpg caption="The Obamas went to a Washington, DC church Sunday."]WASHINGTON (CNN) –- President-elect Barack Obama and his family attended services at a historic Washington church Sunday morning, but his transition office said no final decision has been made on the family’s congregation in their new home town.

Obama went to the 19th Street Baptist Church Sunday morning with wife Michelle, daughters Sasha and Malia, and his mother-in-law Marian Robinson. The family, which received a standing ovation from the congregation as they came in, sat in the second row, with Obama himself sitting on the aisle.

A pool reporter inside the church said Obama sang along during the hymn “Blessed Assurance” near the beginning of the service. A pastor ended a prayer with a theme of the Obama campaign, adding “yes we can” to “in the name of Jesus we pray, amen.”

The sermon was partially directed at Obama, two days before he takes office. Entitled “For Such a Time as This,” it included a message about God preparing people for the challenges they face.

Pastor Derrick Harkins said, “While I am tasked with preaching to everyone who is here, let me step to the side with you Mr. President-elect, for just a moment…Perhaps, just perhaps, you are where you are for such a time as this.”

He added, “Oh yes, it's fair to say that it was votes of the people that placed you. But I stand with all due certainty to say that it will be God's strength that sustains you."

The congregation had been told a special guest was coming, and some guessed who it would be when the time of the service was moved back an hour. The lower level of the church was 90 percent full, a larger turnout than average, according to one church member.

The pool reporter inside the church said the pastor acknowledged Obama at the beginning of a two-minute greeting period during the service. The family talked with several people who gathered around them. Obama was seen putting an envelope into the offering tray.

The Obamas listened to a children’s choir perform during the service. Three of them then recited individual lines saying,” Martin Luther King walked so that Barack Obama could run. Barack Obama ran so that all children could fly. Yes we can. Yes I can.”

The church organist played “We Shall Overcome” as the Obamas left the church.
As the Obamas left, they waved to a crowd that had gathered outside.

The family has not belonged to a church since May 2008, when Obama resigned from the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, after the controversy over comments by Rev. Jeremiah Wright. The transition team said the Obamas have not yet decided if this will be church in Washington.

Obama’s Director of Religious Affairs said, “The Obamas are honored to worship this Sunday at Nineteenth Street and look forward to learning more about many churches in the District. They will choose a church home at a time that is best for their family.”

Nineteenth Street Baptist Church was founded in the Northwest area of the District of Columbia in 1839, keeping its name but moving to a new location on 16th Street in 1975. The church describes itself as “at the center of Washington’s community and social life for more than a century.” It says many Washington-area Baptist churches can trace their roots to its former members.

Filed under: President-elect Obama
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