President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and their daughters, Sasha and Malia, made a visit to a historic Baptist church in Washington, D.C., on Sunday, ahead of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
The Obamas were seen worshipping as the congregation at Zion Baptist Church in Northwest sang “Amazing Grace,” Reuters reported. The church’s pastor, the Rev. Keith Byrd Sr., acknowledged the president’s attendance, saying, “[The Obamas] came here to worship, and we want them to worship. Bless you and thank you for joining us.”
In his sermon, Byrd referred to William Shakespeare’s “To be, or not to be,” saying that was the question before King, a Baptist pastor, during the social upheaval. The pastor encouraged the congregation to “be a source of hope.”
Deacon Hendri Williams read from King’s 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” The church is “not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society,” he quoted from the letter.
The Washington, D.C., church, founded in 1864 by African-Americans who migrated to Washington from Virginia, runs a ministry called the Zion Baptist Church History and Preservation Commission, which “promotes and preserves the Christian culture and religious heritage of Zion Baptist Church so future generations will appreciate and understand the Church’s role in developing the spirit and moral fiber of African-Americans in the nation’s capital.”
The church’s program books also featured a plea for donations to the Occupy D.C. protest movement, according to ABC News. “Warm blankets, sleeping bags, hand and feet warmers” were among the items requested for the movement.
Last year, the Obamas went to Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church just before the King holiday. In 2010, the president visited Vermont Avenue Baptist Church and spoke from the pulpit where King once delivered a five-page address. However, Obama has not spoken on the occasion since then.
The Obamas were members of the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago before his presidential run. He quit the church amid uproar over the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s controversial sermons. Since then, the president’s family has not joined a congregation.
President Ronald Reagan signed a bill at the White House Rose Garden on Nov. 2, 1983, creating a federal holiday to honor King. The first Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was observed in January 1986. Following President George H.W. Bush’s 1992 proclamation, the holiday is observed on the third Monday of the first month each year, near the time of King’s birthday.