Amy Sullivan has the scoop on the Obamas’ choice of church: Camp David’s Evergreen Chapel. A politic move, and probably a wise one: Not only do the Obamas seem to want to be together as a family at Camp David whenever possible (so where else go to church?), but it was going to be a circus if they chose any D.C. congregation.
What is Evergreen Chapel? Amy calls it a “non-demonational church,” which is not quite accurate. It’s a non-sectarian chapel, built with private funds raised by a planning committee of clergy from different faiths, and dedicated in 1991. The non-sectarian aspect of the place did not come without a struggle, as recounted by James Rudin, the rabbi who served on the committee in his capacity as the American Jewish Committee’s director of interreligious affairs. The struggle had to do with the eight stained glass windows that adorn the place. Originally, six of them were dedicated to each of six mainline Protestant denominations, one was for Roman Catholicism, and the other featured symbols of various “others.”
Rudin, who tells the story in chapter VII of his 2006 book, The Baptizing of America, successfully persuaded the committee that such privileging of Christianity (and Protestant Christianity of a certain kind at that) was not the American way, and in consequence a new set of windows was created featuring more abstract spiritual objects: the sea, an anchor, a mountain, a globe, an open book, a tree of knowledge, a sheaf of wheat, seven flames, a dove, and a lamp with a flame.
Evergreen Chapel does have a presiding chaplain, a military one assigned on a rotating basis by the Navy. The current occupant of that position is a Southern Baptist out of the Marines, whom Amy considers as close as possible to a “polar opposite” of the Obamas’ former pastor, Jeremiah Wright. (But maybe not so much: Wright was a Marine too.) In any event, the Obamas chosen church is, strictly speaking, not a church at all, but a place for all faiths, fully achieved as such in a typical exercise of the American civil religion.
Update: Whoops! The White House has told Brody it ain’t so. The Great Church Hunt continues. Maybe. Amy sources her story as “Obama has told White House aides.”
Further Update: Amy stands by her story, suggesting that, sure, the Obamas will be on the lookout for a regular D.C. church, but not so’s you’d notice. Meanwhile, Chris Rodda of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation is on the case of the current Camp David chaplain, Lt. Carey Cash. Turns out he’s part of a hard-core evangelize-the-military ministry–which makes you wonder a little about the Navy’s decision to rotate him into the Camp David position in January. From Amy’s account, it seems as though there’s a generic (evangelical?) Protestant congregation embedded in the formally non-sectarian chapel. Has the place has ever been used for services of other faith traditions?