Obamas Make Surprise Visit to 'Church of the Presidents'

President Barack Obama walked to the historic "Church of the Presidents" across the White House with wife Michelle and their daughter Sasha, and attended a Sunday morning service that reflected on the hymn "Amazing Grace."

It was President Obama's second visit to St. John's Episcopal Church, located north of Lafayette Square, since last December.

The service included Scripture readings from Numbers 21, Ephesians 2 and John 3, the singing of "Amazing Grace" and a sermon by guest speaker the Rev. Thomas Reid Ward, Jr., on the words of the hymn, according to The Associated Press.

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The Obamas arrived at the church five minutes before Pastor Ward began his sermon telling the congregation that God's grace instills faith and courage. "All we have to do is believe," the visiting pastor was quoted as saying in his address.

The first family sat through the service, taking part in the audience welcome of greeting pew neighbors and Holy Communion, before walking back to the White House. Eldest daughter Malia didn't attend the service.

Congregants at St. John's, a church often frequented by sitting presidents, are used to having presidents in the pews. All presidents since James Madison have attended at least one service at St. John's, founded in 1815.

"We don't change things when the president comes," the church's pastor, the Rev. Luis Leon, said, according to The Washington Post. "We are always delighted to have him here. He comes with frequency to visit our congregation."

President Obama, Leon added, visits a number of congregations, "and I am glad that we are one of the congregations." The pastor also said his congregation was racially diverse. "We have a wonderful mix reflecting God's creation."

Leon said he and the president talked about "basketball brackets" before the Obamas walked back to the White House.

When the Obamas attended service at St. John's in December, Leon spoke about John the Baptist and discussed the president in his sermon. The religious leaders of the time had great expectations from John the Baptist but he told them he was neither the Messiah nor the prophet, but a voice calling in the wilderness, Leon told the congregation. Even Americans thought Obama would bring an immediate change, he added. "People have a tendency to create idols. Society must wait without idols."

The Obamas were members of the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago before his presidential run. Since then, the president's family has not joined a congregation.

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