President Donald Trump stuck with tradition in attending Easter service Sunday morning at The Episcopal Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea.
Trump and his family attend church at Bethesda fairly regularly, including the Easter Day service last year.
Besides the metal detectors, Secret Service agents and police presence, it was a typical Easter service at Bethesda.
Most of the congregation that filled the hall for the 11 a.m. services were regular members and appeared not to be distracted by the president sitting in the pews. For some, Trump in the audience added extra value to the service.
“I think it does give a special meaning to the service to have the president here,” said Jim Beasley, a member at Bethesda. “I think it’s an old custom for presidents to go to church on Sunday, certainly on Easter and Christmas especially. It’s just a matter of where he chooses to go. I think it’s very impressive that he’s here, not just at Bethesda but here in Palm Beach.”
John F. Kennedy often attended St. Edward Catholic Church in Palm Beach.
Trump and his family, including first lady Melania and their son, Barron, arrived just after the rest of the congregation was seated and sat near the front. They were joined by Trump’s daughter, Tiffany, and the first lady’s parents.
The 100 block of Barton Avenue was closed to allow a row of privacy tents to be set up for Trump’s entrance. South County Road was temporarily closed when the presidential motorcade made its way to the church from Mar-a-Lago. A few supporters, including the Trump-mobile, were on-site waiting Trump’s arrival.
A Palm Beach resident in a pink hat and dress, held up a hand-lettered sign with the message, “Palm Beach is powered by immigrants.”
“I think it’s important to remember our immigrants here in Palm Beach, who prepare our meals, care for our young and our elderly,” she said.
Most of the 11 a.m. congregation arrived one to two hours early. After passing through metal detectors they waited in line outside the church for the 9 a.m. service to end so they could take their seats. Overflow seating was available next door in the Parish Hall with a live video feed of the service.
“The only thing that was different was all the security,” Anne Yudenfreund, of Jupiter, said of the service. “There was no extra meaning. We’ve seen Trump at this church over the years. We’ve been coming here for 20 years…usually for holidays.”
President not a distraction
Other than a few cellphone picture attempts, Trump’s presence didn’t seem to cause much of a disruption. Secret Service monitored people as they walked past the president for communion. Trump received communion as well.
The Rev. James Harlan focused his sermon on what makes Easter Day “different” than other days. He said the Lord’s resurrection gives people the strength and courage to see beauty in others.
“It is so easy for you and for me to think the worst, to find the worst, to judge the worst in other people,” he said. “When we start seeing that divine spark, that basic beauty with which God created every one of us, we have a renewed sense of purpose. We realize that life is bigger than just eating, sleeping and breathing.”
The congregation waved to the president as he left just before the end of the service.
“It doesn’t add extra meaning because going to church is going to church for your spiritual reasons, but it’s certainly very nice that he comes to church and we’re proud and honored that he’s at our church,” said Tom Anderson, a regular member at Bethesda.
The president and his family returned to Mar-a-Lago for brunch and an Easter egg hunt on the lawn, a White House spokeswoman said.
The president’s motorcade left Mar-a-Lago to return to head to Palm Beach International Airport at about 3:50 p.m.
Several dozen people watched at the foot of the Southern Boulevard Bridge as Trump’s motorcade made its way to the airport. Some were there to show support while others were just unexpectedly caught in traffic.
Regina Taylor, of Houston, said she is in West Palm Beach visiting family for Easter weekend and wanted to wish the president well.
“I just struck it at the right time that I was here when the president came in,” she said, holding an American flag. “It’s a wonderful experience for me.”
Trump stuck his head close to the window of his black SUV and waved to supporters as Secret Service drove him by. The cars were only a few feet from onlookers and Trump was easily visible.
“I feel privileged,” Taylor said of the sighting. “I’m going to go back and tell all my friends. I just feel happy that I had this experience and I wish everyone would have it.”
Palm Beach Post staff writer Pat Beall contributed to this story.