Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church has hosted the funeral service of civil rights leader Rosa Parks and both inauguration services for former President William Jefferson Clinton. Founded in 1838, the church, known as the National Cathedral of African Methodism, is rich in history, which is why it has historically been one of Washington, D.C.’s premier places of worship – especially with a location just a few blocks from the White House.
At Metropolitan, it’s commonplace to encounter men in suits on Sunday morning, but on Jan. 16, it was anything but ordinary. That morning, men in black suits stood at every vantage point inside and outside the church in downtown Washington, and many of them were not only dressed for service, but also to protect the president of the United States, Barack Obama, and his family.
As crowds, of church members and Obama supporters, multiplied outside, Metropolitan’s pastor, the Rev. Dr. Ronald E. Braxton, paced his office. He had met other presidents before, but this one was different. “Obama represented a long tradition of U.S. presidents who visited the church. It was significant for him to visit on this day, especially being an African-American president, on the day that we celebrated an African American and his contribution to America,” Braxton said.
While church members and visitors opened their coats to get swept down by security outside, the pastor’s office was full of church staff and bishops, who would ordinarily come and go as they pleased, but now had to answer to the Secret Service men with wires on their left ears.
However, besides cheers and cell phone camera flashes, the president was anything but a distraction during Sunday’s service at Metropolitan. The choir sang joyfully, scriptures were read and churchgoers nodded their heads as prayers were delivered and testimonies were given. Like any other Sunday, the congregation exploded with an enthusiasm that’s unique to the Black Church, but on this Sunday, the enthusiasm had a new attitude.
It was the same attitude that Metropolitan member Ernest Green, one of the oldest of the “Little Rock Nine” had when he first met President Obama, although when he met Obama, he wasn’t president yet. Before Obama’s arrival at Metropolitan, Green said, “Seeing Obama as a president today visiting my church, makes me, as a teenager of 1957, know that I was on the right path. This is something that I could have never predicted.”
The president greeted Green with a sincerity he gave everyone he encountered that Sunday. And, like everyone who encountered Obama, Green was caught up in the rapture of the nation’s leader.
The Obama family left Metropolitan A.M.E. church after the service but stayed in the memories and hearts of those who were fortunate enough to worship with them and shake their hands. There was never a moment when one of the Obamas was not either smiling , praying or worshipping. For everyone in attendance, it was a historic moment that will continue the legacy of Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church.