President Barack Obama and the first family on Sunday visited Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Washington DC known as the “National Cathedral of African Methodism” to worship.
About 1500 congregants and senior pastor Rev Ronald E. Braxton jubilantly welcomed the president on the eve of his inauguration, which is also the birthday of Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The church also sang happy birthday for First Lady Michelle Obama who turned 49 on Jan.17.
President Obama’s visit to Metropolitan AME is significant because it also marked the eve of the church’s historic 175th anniversary and underscores Obama’s faith posture, which came under fire during his first term in office when some on the religious right were questioning his faith.
“It was beautiful and it was spiritual,” said Tijuana Morris who attended the service. “I took pride in the service that our president was in the church.”
The church beautifully decorated to honor the president’s visit according to Dr. Garland-Hill, a minister at Hartford Memorial Baptist Church in Detroit sends a strong message that “Obama is not only the president of all of us but he remembers his roots and his ancestors and the role they played for us to be where we are today.”
The AME church which grew out of the anti-segregationist movement in 1787 has since been a major spiritual denomination for African Americans when it was first founded by Richard Allen.
The Metropolitan AME has had a revered history and distinguished record of notable African Americans and transformational leaders who either spoke at the church or attended regular Sunday service there.
For example preeminent African American civil rights pioneer Frederick Douglass who interfaced with President Lincoln attended service there and the church was the site of his funeral in 1895 as well as legendary labor leader and civil rights activist A. Philip Randolph who was funeralized at the church.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Rev Jesse Jackson Sr., Eleanor Roosevelt, Hubert H. Humphrey, Charles H. Wesley, Paul Laurence Dunbar are among a list of previous speakers who have graced the pulpit of Metropolitan AME.
” Obama is a messenger just like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who always had a message about peace,” Hill said. “For him to visit an African American church on this Sunday sends a message that as a black man he is not ashamed to go to his roots.”
Obama has selected Myrlie Evers Williams, the widow of Medgar Evers, the slain civil rights activist to deliver the invocation at the inauguration, another twist to the celebration that reflects on the civil rights pilgrimage that included the blood of many innocent lives shed.
“I am eternally grateful to Obama to have Myrlie Evers to deliver the invocation,” Hill said. “To me that means that from the grave the work of Emma Till leaves on. Obama now leaves a legacy for our children that you have an obligation to never forget where you came from.”
Rev Hill said to look at the White House built with the hands of slaves and to see a Black man now occupying 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as president is completing a cycle of history.
“That is why the Black church today needs to go back to our roots to give our children not only religious training but social and economic training because it was the center place of our existence as a people,” Hill said.”The Black church should reach out and help because so many people are hurting out there. We need to have more clinics in our churches.”
Virgie Rollins, chair of the Democratic Black Caucus said Obama’s visit to Metropolitan AME today shows “He is still trying to decide where he wants to worship. I’m assuming he enjoys it. This demosntrates again he is starting to feel comfortable with his relationship with his God. He talks about his faith.”
Rollins said probably the president “Is accepting to be a part of this church because picking a church will be important to him and his family.”
With their visit to Metropolitan AME, the Obamas seemed to be building a strong affinity with the African Methodist Episcopal Church because President Obama addressed the AME General Conference in 2008, and as recent as June of 2012, Michelle Obama, was the keynote speaker at the church’s quadrennial General Conference where she delivered a fiery speech.
“You see, living out our eternal salvation is not a once-a-week kind of deal,” She said.”And in a more literal sense, neither is citizenship.”
She urged the 10,000 attendees of the conference to move beyond the four walls of their churches and make a difference.
“And to anyone who says that church is no place to talk about these issues, you tell them there is no place better – no place better. Because ultimately, these are not just political issues — they are moral issues,” She said at the height of the heated 2012 presidential campaign. “Find that nephew who has never voted – get him registered.”
Bankole Thompson is a Senior Author-in-Residence at Global Mark Makers Publishing House in Iowa where he is writing a groundbreaking six-part book series on the Obama presidency. His book “Obama and Black Loyalty” published in 2010 follows his recent book “Obama and Christian Loyalty” with a foreword by Bob Weiner former White House spokesman. His forthcoming books in 2012 are “Obama and Jewish Loyalty” and “Obama and Business Loyalty.” He is the first editor of a major African American newspaper to have a series of sit-down interviews with Barack Obama. Thompson is also a Senior Political News Analyst at WDET-101.9FM Detroit (NPR Affiliate) and a member of the weekly “Obama Watch” Sunday evening round table on WLIB-1190AM New York and simulcast in New Jersey and Connecticut.