Obama attends Easter service at historic church

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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama and his family attended Easter service Sunday at a Washington church founded in 1863 by freed slaves.

The first family entered Shiloh Baptist Church to a round of applause on a sun-splashed day in the nation’s capital as members of a choir dressed in black, white and gold sang “Total Praise.”

Obama shook a few hands and hugged some members of the congregation as he and his wife, Michelle, and their daughters, Malia and Sasha, walked to a second-row pew.

According to the church’s pastor, Dr. Wallace Charles Smith, 21 freed slaves made it to the nation’s capital from Fredericksburg, Va., to establish a place where they could worship freely and where “they could reach others with the good news of their salvation.”

Smith wrote last September, on the church’s 147th anniversary, that the group “could not see the way ahead … but went forth to a land they felt God had given them.”

Located about two miles north of the White House, Shiloh Baptist is one of the oldest African-American congregations in the city. In addition to Sunday service, the church situated in the Shaw section of the city operates several community service programs throughout the year, including a child care development center and assistance to low-income families and senior citizens. Smith will observe his 20th anniversary at Shiloh in July.

During Sunday’s service, Smith asked that no cameras be used, saying “this is a place of worship.” He said the church prays for the first family every Sunday. “The Secret Service said, just be ourselves,” he said, inviting the president to address the congregation. Obama declined.

Smith’s sermon, titled “The Resurrection Changes Everything,” drew from the book of John, chapters 15 and 16.

Last Easter, the Obamas worshipped at a historically black Methodist church in a different part of the city. In 2009, Obama visited St. John’s Church across Lafayette Square from the White House, the pale yellow place of worship that other presidents have favored over the years.

Attending a National Prayer Breakfast on Tuesday Obama said the events recalled during the week leading up to Easter, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, are reminders of “that unfathomable gift of grace and salvation.”

The grace “calls me to ask God for forgiveness for the times that I’ve not shown grace to others, those times I’ve fallen short,” Obama said last week.

“And that’s why we have this breakfast,” Obama said. “Because in the middle of critical national debates, in the middle of our busy lives, we must always make sure that we are keeping things in perspective.”

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.