ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — President Barack Obama and his family attended Easter service at the Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia, whose history dates back almost 200 years to when Thomas Jefferson was in the White House.
Obama along with wife Michelle and daughters Sasha and Malia were welcomed to the historic church by the pastor, Rev. Dr. Howard-John Wesley, who noted that like the first lady, he is a native of Chicago’s South Side.
“How fitting that on the day we celebrate the rising of our Lord and savior, we also welcome our sitting president,” Wesley said, as the congregation rose to their feet in applause.
“This is not selfie time,” Wesley said jokingly. “Let the brother worship in the house of God.”
Churchgoers traditionally walk around to shake hands and give hugs during the greetings and announcements portion of service, but the pastor encouraged the crowd to stay in their seats and greet only their closest neighbors, as the sanctuary was tightly secured with Secret Service agents.
The choir— including women in purple dresses and men sporting purple ties— sang a stirring rendition of the hymn “He Lives,” prompting most of the church, filled to capacity, to clap, sing and sway to the thumping organ keys while ushers collected the offering.
The lively pastor based his sermon around a scripture from 1 Corinthians 15 on the life and resurrection of Christ.
“Where do you stand in the resurrection of Christ,” he asked. “You either believe it or reject it.”
Wesley said the sacrifices of Christ allowed the congregation to be forgiven for their own sins.
“He took the pain for me. I owe him my life. I owe him my praise. I owe him my hallelujah,” he said.
According to the church’s website, the Alexandria Baptist Society was formed in 1803 when members split from another church in the Northern Virginia city, and a slave was baptized that year as its first Black member.
Three years later, Black members established the Colored Baptist Society as a “conjoined” church. The congregation adopted its current name in the late 1800s.
In 2000, President Bill Clinton visited Alfred Street a few days before the November election as he sang with the gospel choir and appealed to Black voters to turn out in large numbers for Vice President Al Gore in his race against Republican George W. Bush.