September 19, 2010 / 5:06 PM / 9 years ago

Obama makes rare church appearance in Washington

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama, who invoked his own Christian faith recently in seeking to quell anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States, attended church in Washington on Sunday for the first time in about five months.

U.S. President Barack Obama with first lady Michelle Obama (R) and their daughters Sasha (2nd L) and Malia walk out from the White House to attend Sunday service at St. John's Episcopal Church in Washington September 19, 2010. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Obama and his family strolled a block from the White House to St. John’s Episcopal Church, a place of worship for many of his predecessors, for an hour-long service.

It was one of just a handful of times Obama has gone to church in Washington since taking office in January 2009, and follows opinion polls showing that as many as one in five Americans falsely believe he is Muslim.

Obama’s visit came after he appealed for religious tolerance after a Florida pastor’s threat to burn copies of the Koran sparked an outcry in the Muslim world and controversy swirled around plans to build a Muslim cultural center and mosque near the site of the September 11 attacks in New York.

“As someone who relies heavily on my Christian faith in my job, I understand the passions that religious faith can make,” Obama told a September 10 news conference.

The Obama family never joined a church in Washington. Obama has said it would be too disruptive to the congregation. The White House says he regularly attends services at a chapel at Camp David when spends weekends at the presidential retreat in Maryland.

Obama was a longtime member of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago before quitting in 2008 during the presidential campaign amid controversy over provocative sermons by its former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

The last time Obama went to a Sunday service in Washington was to celebrate Easter in early April.

The morning sermon at St. John’s dealt with Luke 16:1-13, the parable of the dishonest steward that ends with the admonition “you cannot serve God and wealth.”

Obama led his wife, Michelle, and two daughters to the altar to take communion.

Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, was a regular churchgoer in Washington for much of his tenure but his attendance tapered off in his final two years in office.

Reporting by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Eric Beech

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