By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country
Giving no clue as to which Washington congregation they'll make their own, President Obama and his family attended Easter services yesterday at St. John's Church, an Episcopal congregation across the street from the White House. St. John's is long accustomed to hosting presidents, but the Obamas seem unlikely to join it.
David Brody reports that the president's search for a permanent church—Obama has been without one since leaving Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ over last year's controversy surrounding the Rev. Jeremiah Wright—may be far from over. The president himself may visit a handful of congregations before making a decision. Till now, much of the speculation surrounding Obama's church hunt has centered on 19th Street Baptist Church, Washington's oldest black congregation, where Obama worshiped shortly before his inauguration.
But there's been little talk of Obama joining another United Church of Christ congregation. That's the denomination that formally brought Obama to Christianity in the 1980s, through Wright and Trinity UCC. In a sign of Obama's closeness to the denomination, he addressed its general synod in 2007 while campaigning for president, speaking about the huge role that Trinity played in his young adulthood. I'd find it hard to believe that a UCC congregation isn't on the president's shortlist.
Here's what Obama told the 2007 UCC General Synod about Trinity UCC:
It wasn't until after college, when I went to Chicago to work as a community organizer for a group of Christian churches, that I confronted my own spiritual dilemma. In a sense, what brought me to Chicago in the first place was a hunger for some sort of meaning in my life. I wanted to be part of something larger. I'd been inspired by the civil rights movement—by all the clear-eyed, straight-backed, courageous young people who'd boarded buses and traveled down South to march and sit at lunch counters, and lay down their lives in some cases for freedom. I was too young to be involved in that movement, but I felt I could play a small part in the continuing battle for justice by helping rebuild some of Chicago's poorest neighborhoods.
So it's 1985, and I'm in Chicago, and I'm working with these churches, and with lots of laypeople who are much older than I am. And I found that I recognized in these folks a part of myself. I learned that everyone's got a sacred story when you take the time to listen. And I think they recognized a part of themselves in me too. They saw that I knew the Scriptures and that many of the values I held and that propelled me in my work were values they shared. But I think they also sensed that a part of me remained removed and detached—that I was an observer in their midst.
And slowly, I came to realize that something was missing as well—that without an anchor for my beliefs, without a commitment to a particular community of faith, at some level I would always remain apart, and alone.
And it's around this time that some pastors I was working with came up to me and asked if I was a member of a church. "If you're organizing churches," they said, "it might be helpful if you went to church once in a while." And I thought, "Well, I guess that makes sense."
So one Sunday, I put on one of the few clean jackets I had, and went over to Trinity United Church of Christ on 95th Street on the South Side of Chicago. And I heard Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright deliver a sermon called "The Audacity of Hope." And during the course of that sermon, he introduced me to someone named Jesus Christ. I learned that my sins could be redeemed. I learned that those things I was too weak to accomplish myself, He would accomplish with me if I placed my trust in Him. And in time, I came to see faith as more than just a comfort to the weary or a hedge against death, but rather as an active, palpable agent in the world and in my own life.
It was because of these newfound understandings that I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity one day and affirm my Christian faith. It came about as a choice, and not an epiphany. I didn't fall out in church, as folks sometimes do. The questions I had didn't magically disappear. The skeptical bent of my mind didn't suddenly vanish. But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side, I felt I heard God's spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth and carrying out His works.