Obamas Visit Black Church Ahead of Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday

WASHINGTON, D.C. - President Barack Obama and his family attended church services on Sunday, continuing their custom of prayer on each Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. The family does not go to church frequently, but has traditionally spent the holiday occasion at historically black places of worship.

This year, President Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, and daughters Sasha and Malia visited the Zion Baptist Church in Washington for the first time. Founded in the 1860s, the congregation's historical commission is dedicated to preserving the history of black Christian culture in the District of Columbia.

After entering and joining the choir and parishioners in a buoyant rendition of "Lord, You Are Good," the family listened to the pastor, the Rev. Keith Byrd Sr., deliver his sermon. The pastor invoked William Shakespeare's "To be, or not to be" during the ceremony. Byrd told parishioners that was the question King had to answer during a time of social upheaval.

"Be a source of hope," the reverend told the congregation.

The program was also accompanied by a reading from King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail."

Typically the Obamas do not actively participate in the church services they attend, remaining in the pews. But in 2010, the family attended services at the Vermont Avenue Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., where the President delivered an address using a pulpit King himself once stood in.

The church's program books also featured a plea for donations to the Occupy D.C. protest movement. "Warm blankets, sleeping bags, hand and feet warmers" were among the items requested for the movement, which has members camped out in two Washington squares.