There are many conflicting media reports about President Trump and his relationship with the Christian faith, the church, and religion as a whole. As a resident of the president's beloved Palm Beach community, a place where we have grown accustomed to seeing the 'real' Donald, I can tell you the president does attend church.
In fact, he attends my church.
I sat across from the president on Easter Sunday. I've worshiped with Trump and his family multiple times in our little stone sanctuary over the last 15 years I've been a parishioner. Here are some things I would like to set straight about attending church with President Trump.
Firstly, let's establish where this church is. My little local church is called the Episcopal Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea. It was built in 1889 and services the Palm Beach community. This is where it sits on a map:
Palm Beach Island was built as a private hideaway for America's wealthy since it was established as a resort town in the late 1800s. The tiny island quickly became a homestead for New York’s elite. The homes and buildings here were built mostly during the “Gatsby” Gilded Age. Astors, Vanderbilts, and Kennedys called Palm Beach home long before Donald Trump.
Donald has always been a bit more “colorful” than other Palm Beach residents. He does ruffle some feathers on the quiet island occasionally. But what irritates some of his fellow homeowners on the island is what endears him to his voting bloc: his love of interacting with people and being a grand host.
In Palm Beach, Donald is very accessible. He still greets members at Mar-a-Lago by name. He will exit his motorcade to shake hands with supporters lining the street to wave signs for him. He invites them into his home. None of this is surprising to people who have been neighbors with him on the island for the last 25 years.
So it was no surprise to members of our community church when President Trump casually walked into Easter service. I have attended church with Trump five times, including last Easter when he was a GOP presidential candidate. Donald was married at my church. His son Barron was christened at my church. Melania posts photos of my church, saying it is where she and Donald “celebrate and pray.”
However, when Donald came to worship this Easter Sunday, things were different.
This was the first time Donald Trump attended as president.
Here are some ways your church service changes when the most powerful man in the world attends.
1. You may need to arrive “early” to get a good seat in church when the president is coming to service.
Between the 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. service, the church was entirely closed off and the Secret Service swept the building with bomb sniffing dogs. The entrance to the building was blocked off during this time, and not open to the public.
2. The lines to get into the church are very long.
As people lined up for the 11 a.m. service, parishioners had to go through metal detectors and be searched by Secret Service and bomb sniffing dogs. It's very much like getting on a plane.
3. A special entrance is set up for the president outside the church grounds.
When the president and his family arrive, everything gets really busy outside. Security swarm. Police block the roads. He may wave, but he is in a 'bubble' until he gets in the building.
4. As the president arrives, those of us in the church are on lockdown. No one in or out.
Some people specifically knew Trump would attend, and some didn’t realize what the procedures were for. A lady sitting right next to us in our pew says, “Oh my gosh, I’m so excited Trump will be here today!” We told her to be quiet and discreet, because we didn’t want the pastor or parishioners to be upset.
5. When the president walks in, everyone is awestruck.
It's neat to see the president, no matter who you are. When Donald walked in, some of the parishioners were very excited. The family came in from the side door, with Barron, Tiffany, and Melania and her parents. They were shown to their pew in the fifth row by one of the clergy. The energy was palpable.
Donald was friendly as usual. He tried to keep the fuss down around him so the pastor wouldn’t be too perturbed. The pastor noted that the day is intended to celebrate Christ, who has risen from the grave — not Donald who has seated himself in the fifth pew.
6. The president worships with Secret Service.
Donald couldn’t really walk around and pose with any of us, but he was kind and friendly, and looked directly into our cameras and smiled for us.
Two Secret Service sat behind him, two in front of him, and maybe even more that we didn’t know about. The entire church was watched over by Secret Service. One agent stood at the front of church on her walkie-talkie communicating with the agent next to him. The entire church and grounds were covered with bomb-sniffing dogs and agents during the entire service, we later found out.
7. Trump will still shake your hand.
Many parishioners did shake Donald’s hand quietly on the way up to take Communion. Some walked right by him. But he was friendly and shook everyone’s hand who reached for his.
8. The president sings in church.
Donald Trump sang hymns in church. I saw it.
9. The first lady and her son were proud parishioners.
Melania was cheerful and beaming. She prayed fervently with the pastor during hymns. Melania's parents were there with the family. Barron was a good boy for being an 11-year-old in a church service. He was dutiful and attentive.
10. The president leaves quietly, just before the end of the service.
Donald and his family left when the final hymn played. He waved at everyone, and everyone waved back, then his Secret Service and family all left out of a side door.
Some people were outside, so hyped up, they were literally crying to see the president as we walked out at the end of service. So the word was out that he was there by the end of service.
I'm proud to be a member of the same church as Donald Trump. During this service, you can imagine a lot is on his mind, now that he is no longer just the owner of a club on the island, but rather the commander in chief for the most powerful country in the world.
I think I saw him praying, just a bit more this year.