President Obama and first family attend services at oldest black Episcopal church

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Much has been made of the confluence of President Obama’s second inaugural and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The president is taking the opportunity of January 20, the day before the official holiday commemorating the civil rights icon, to underscore his appreciation of King’s legacy. Yet, the president is not the only one enjoying the symbolic significance connecting these historic figures during the 2013 Inauguration Weekend.

The Metropolitan A.M.E. Church in Washington, D.C. hosted the first family this morning during a service celebrating the second inauguration of America’s first black president simultaneously with the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King. According to NBC Washington, the motorcades of President Obama and Vice President Biden arrived at one of the oldest black churches in the capital several minutes ago to worship with the African-American congregation.

This event also celebrated the church’s 175th anniversary.

Throngs of people gathered in the streets hoping to capture a glimpse of the first family commuting to and from the building, which is near the White House.

One woman, a D.C. resident, brought her three granddaughters to teach the important lesson in the living history that the president’s second inaugural represents.

“Truly it’s a great day in the nation’s capital,” she told NBC Washington as the president’s motorcade went by. She and a few others in the crowd were graced with a wave from the president as he opened the window and “leaned out,” as one young woman put it, to intentionally acknowledge the crowd.

Inside the church, the first family, joined by the first lady’s brother, Craig Robinson, and her mother, Marian Robinson, sat near the front of the sanctuary. The congregation greeted them with applause and sang “Happy Birthday” to the first lady, who turned 49 on Thursday. The president waved to the crowd and shook the hands of surrounding parishioners after being formally introduced.

“The president, first lady, wearing a dark blue cardigan and dress of a similar shade, Malia, in a dark purple dress, and Sasha in a lavender dress and matching sweater, joined family members in the second row,” reported ABC News regarding the occasion. “The president was seen swaying to the music with the rest of the congregation before everyone took their seats.”

Leaders of Metropolitan A.M.E. asked for protection and guidance for President Obama in their opening prayers. Then, “Rev. Ronald E. Braxton preached a sermon about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and the need to move forward, ‘when forward is the only option,'” ABC further reported.

“Never allow obstacles or fear to blind you to the potential, possibilities and power that rests only in God’s hands,” he preached. “When you can’t see the way ahead, stand firm in your path and expect to see the salvation of The Lord.”

Vice President Joe Biden took his oath of office earlier this morning before heading to the church. President Obama is scheduled to take his oath today slightly before noon in the Blue Room of the White House, thus officially beginning his second term.

Attending services at one of the oldest black churches in America right before he takes his oath of office is a gesture in alignment with the president’s plan to use Dr. King’s traveling Bible during Monday’s public swearing in.

At noon today, a group of African-American dignitaries will gather at the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial on the National Mall to lay a wreath in the great slain leader’s memory. Martin Luther King, III and Rev. Al Sharpton will join other leaders in this ceremony commemorating King’s life at a time when President Obama will take on the mantle of a second term. Some hope the president will use this coming term to continue representing King’s legacy, not only symbolically, but also in policy.

“There is still much to do, and President Obama remains uniquely positioned to help our nation achieve the tenets of humanity and equality of which Dr. King could only dream,” Congressman Elijah E. Cummings wrote in an editorial for theGrio. “I hope that the Congress will work with President Obama to change our national discourse during his second term.”

Follow Alexis Garrett Stodghill on Twitter at @lexisb.

This article has been updated.