Obama chooses worship over spectacle (maybe)

National_Cathedral_Sanctuary.jpgWhen Amy Sullivan of Time wrote one of the finest articles about President Obama's church options, she quoted a creative idea from Flo McAfee, former religious liaison for the Clinton White House. McAfee recommended worshiping in the chapel at the Army's Fort Meyer, where security already is covered. Now Sullivan, drawing on reporting by her colleague Elizabeth Dias, breaks the news that Obama will, like his predecessor George W. Bush, worship in Evergreen Chapel at Camp David, where Navy chaplains preside. The story offers some great details, not least that Obama can experience more decorum at an informal chapel than he did during an Easter visit to St. John's Church, Lafayette Square: "Even at St. John's, which is so accustomed to presidential visitors that it is known as the 'Church of the Presidents,' worshippers couldn't help themselves from snapping photos of Obama on their camera phones as they walked down the aisle past him to take communion."

My fellow Episcopalians are snapping cell-phone photos? On their way to Communion, no less? This needs to be a story in itself, under the tag "Signs of the Apocalypse."

The Obamas will not worship alone at Camp David. "Each week, regardless of whether the President is on-site, Evergreen Chapel holds nondenominational Christian services open to the nearly 400 military personnel and staff at Camp David, as well as their families," Time reports.

Another great detail: Obama's new pastor is Lieut. Carey Cash, a Southern Baptist who has served as a chaplain in the Iraq War:

The 38-year-old Memphis native is a graduate of the Citadel and the great-nephew of Johnny Cash. He served a tour as chaplain with a Marine battalion in Iraq and baptized nearly 60 Marines during that time. Cash earned his theology degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth -- and, yes, that means Obama's new pastor is a Southern Baptist.

Cash and his wife also have five children, some of whom may find themselves acting opposite Sasha and Malia in the Christmas pageant. But if the experience of past Camp David chaplains is any guide, Cash won't necessarily have the opportunity to form a pastoral relationship with Obama. "We used to tell people our job was to run like a five-star resort," said Patrick McLaughlin, who was chaplain at Camp David from 2002 to 2005, in an interview with Religion News Service. "One of the things you value when you go on vacation is peace and quiet." His contact with Bush outside worship services, McLaughlin said, was "very little."

Sullivan does a solid job of explaining the security challenges and intrusions on a church's weekly atmosphere involved in any presidential visit, especially since the 9/11 terrorist strikes. Obama's choice is bound to be as disappointing for pundits as it is for any camera-weilding worshipers at St. John's. I'm not sure there are many better options, unless Obama's weekly worship choice becomes as chaotic and disruptive as his dropping in on Five Guys Burgers and Fries with Brian Williams.

Update: David Brody of CBN News quotes Jen Psaki, deputy White House press secretary, as disputing Time's report.

Photo: The choir at Washington National Cathedral, which -- despite the lobbying efforts of Sally Quinn, may not claim Obama as a new member.

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