April 24th, 2011
02:00 PM ET
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Dressed in their Easter Sunday best, President Obama, the first lady, and daughters Sasha and Malia entered Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington Sunday to a standing ovation.
The first family attended the 10 a.m. Easter service, a rare public appearance at a church for the president. Rev. Smith, the senior minister of the historic church, welcomed the Obamas. "It probably has not been lost on you that we have some very special visitors this morning... so we welcome President Barack Obama, Michelle, Malia and Sasha."
With his arm around his daughter Malia, President Obama sang along as the 120-member choir performed the introit, This is the Day, and an opening hymn. The service also included scripture readings from the Old Testament (Jeremiah 31:1-6) and the New Testament (John 20:1-18).
During prayers, the Obamas were mentioned on two separate occasions. Rev. Smith told the president that about two years ago the church had decided to pray for him and the first family. "So, if you're feeling blue and all of a sudden you feel a little better, that's our prayers," he said.
Shiloh Baptist, one of the oldest African-American congregations in Washington, is not new to the large entourage and security that comes with a presidential visit. President Obama is at least the third sitting U.S. president to attend services at Shiloh. Bill Clinton addressed the congregation in 2000, and President Reagan hosted "In Performance at the White House" at Shiloh on gospel and spiritual music, for the PBS television series. Dr. Martin Luther King also spoke at the church in the 1960s.
Shiloh was founded by slaves in 1852 in Fredericksburg, Virginia before Union soldiers helped move it to Washington.
President Obama does not attend Sunday church services on a regular basis; this is his fifth visit to an African-American church in Washington since he was elected president.
The Obamas stayed at Shiloh for just over two hours but left before service was over, skipping the invitation to discipleship/altar prayer, achoral blessing and recessional, benediction, and organ postlude, according to the program.
The president and first family returned to the White House where they will spend the rest of the Easter holiday.