WASHINGTON - The Obama family today attended an Easter service in the capital, drawing special attention from the pastor and a warm reception from the congregation.
The first family's decision to skip church on Christmas Eve and Christmas while on vacation in Hawaii four months ago did not go unnoticed, among media outlets both religious and mainstream. Today, they made up for lost church time.
The Obamas made a short trip to the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church (which is actually off 16th St. NW, after moving over 30 years ago), eschewing St. John's Episcopal, a church traditionally visited by presidents that sits across Lafayette Square from the White House, where the Obamas have attended church services in the past along with a few other area houses of worship.
A tan-suited President Obama and the first family sat in the second row of a middle section of pews.
The Obamas received some extra attention from the pastor, Rev. Dr. Derrick Harkins, who directed part of a prayer at the first family, asking God to "surround our president … Bestow upon him a wisdom that indeed comes from you … Even yes, when the light of a flame turns into the harsh glare of criticism, tend to his spirit."
He also asked for heavenly attention to "sister Michelle" and offered thanks for God's "hedge of protection" around Sasha and Malia and asked that the church's "prayers might envelop them with love and encouragement."
The Obamas were mobbed by fellow churchgoers when Harkins encouraged attendees to greet those seated near them. Despite his explicit instructions to "stay where you are" and leave the first family alone, attendees bunched around the Obamas near the front of the church.
The first family smiled and shook hands with the congregation, and as phone photos were snapped and older women greeted the first daughters, Harkins gently admonished everyone to back off.
"Amen," he repeated several times, trying to move on to the rest of the service.
"I didn't know we had as many people seated in this front section," he said, later adding: "Y'all went and did exactly what I told you not to do," remarking on the first family's graciousness.
During a keyboard interlude between hymns, a man stood up and shouted, "God bless President Obama!" shaking his hands in the air. The congregation applauded.
The first family didn't acknowledge much of this extra attention, instead sitting quietly and declining to draw attention to themselves at the front of the medium-sized church.