When the Obamas moved into the White House, Washington’s African-American religious communities were ecstatic. The White House was swamped with invitations to visit area churches, and every congregation hoped to land the First Family as church members. White House aides reportedly fanned out across the city, attending services and scouting churches that the Obamas might join as members.
Four years later, Obama has attended church in Washington only a handful of times and has–like George W. Bush before him–declined to join a local congregation.The President has expressed concern about the security hassles that church members would have to go through if he regularly attended services somewhere, as well as the problem of gawkers displacing longtime church members. On a few occasions when he ventured out to an African-American church here, lines began forming before dawn as word leaked out, and regular church members were unable to get in. People close to Obama also say that he is uncomfortable putting his worship on display and prefers to keep that area of his life private.
So Easter is a challenge. Because if you’re the President and you’re a Christian, you have to go to church on Easter. The first year of his presidency, Obama stayed close to home, opting to attend Easter services at St. John’s Episcopal Church across Lafayette Square from the White House. It was the safe choice, a church oft-attended by previous Presidents and its staff is well-accustomed to handling the security and crowd control that goes along with such visits.
Last year, the Obamas traveled to southeast D.C., to Allen Chapel AME. The choice was influenced by recent events–not far from the church, a drive-by shooting had left four dead and five wounded the previous week. Other historically black churches might have desired the President’s presence on Easter, but they understood why he was worshipping with a grieving congregation.
The last time the Obamas attended church in D.C. was the Sunday before MLK Day in January when they joined members of Metropolitan AME in downtown Washington. Local pastors are on alert, waiting for the news that they can expect a special guest in the pews on Easter. Come Sunday, one congregation’s celebration will be filled with a little extra joy for its chosen status–and a whole lot of pastors will be miffed and disappointed to have once more missed one of the rare opportunities to host the Worshipper-in-Chief.