Holy BlackBerry! Obama Finds Ways to Keep the Faith During First Year in Office

If church attendance is one measure of a man's faith, then President Obama may appear to have lost some of his. The first family, once regular churchgoers, have publicly attended services in Washington just three times in the past year, by ABC News' count, even bypassing the pews on Christmas Day.

Obama quit Chicago's embattled Trinity United Church of Christ months before taking office in 2008 and has not formally joined a new one in his new hometown.


But sources familiar with the president's personal life say Obama remains a faithful Christian while in the White House, practicing his beliefs regularly in private with family and the aid of his BlackBerry.

"Barack Obama is a Christian. He's always been clear and unapologetic about that, and he's comfortable with his own faith," Rev. Jim Wallis, an Obama friend and spiritual adviser, said. "But I think the president, particularly a president, needs the kind of pastoral care or spiritual counsel with people who don't have a political agenda. And it's hard for a president to get that."

Obama told ABC Nightline's Terry Moran that his personal BlackBerry, which he famously fought with the Secret Service to keep, has actually become a tool of keeping the faith during his first year in office.

"My Faith and Neighborhood Initiatives director, Joshua DuBois, he has a devotional that he sends to me on my BlackBerry every day," Obama said. "That's how I start my morning. You know, he's got a passage, Scripture, in some cases quotes from other faiths to reflect on."

Keeping the faith in quiet moments of worship may be the best Obama can do given the realities of the presidency that make it nearly impossible to join a church without inflicting a heavy burden on taxpayers, fellow churchgoers and his own spiritual life, sources say.

Security concerns mean costly and complicated measures to ensure the president's safety on church outings, including screening every member of the congregation for weapons and sweeping the church building and areas around it for threats.

Incessant media attention is also distracting for any president trying to commune with God, exposing what is traditionally a private practice to public scrutiny, Wallis said.

"I don't think for them [the family], it's a political decision," he said of Obama's church dilemma. "I think for the media, it's a political issue. Where they land and get their nurture, care and formation; that's very difficult for the first family to find."

After Quitting Home Church, Obamas Improvise

The Obamas announced a search for a new place of worship in late 2008 after a scandal over incendiary comments by then-pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright forced their separation from Trinity, where they had been members for 20 years.

Days before his inauguration, Obama described to ABC News the "difficult time" of being without a church, saying that despite receiving daily prayers from supporters, "it's not the same as going to church and the choir's going and you get this feeling."

But weeks later, when the Obamas ventured to 19th Street Baptist Church -- one of the oldest, most historic African-American churches in the nation's capital -- aides say the family was shocked by the circus atmosphere surrounding their attendance and dismayed that some longtime church members couldn't even get into the service.

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