Trump, first lady attend Christmas Eve service in Florida

PBPO News:

Just after the start of the 10:30 p.m. worship service, the president and first lady arrived and sat in third row from the front. The congregation gave them a standing ovation as the choir sang “Candlelight Carol” and they were cheered.

People sometimes held up their cellphones to take photos of the president, but they were quickly asked to leave by the church ushers or Secret Service agents stationed throughout sanctum.

Several people stood around Trump to shake his hand during the greeting. People who sat next to Trump in the middle aisle listened to Holy Communion and paused to wish him a Merry Christmas, offer encouragement, or as one woman did, to thank him for his kindness.

The Rev. Rev. James Harlan focused his homily on words and the difference between God’s word, and people’s words. He said that “the word of God is stronger and more transformative than any words you or I could say,” noting the “destructive power” words have. He added, “God’s word a pure light.”

On Sunday night, hundreds of people attended the service. Many sat in an adjoining room. Many people waited more than two hours to get a seat in the sanctuary.

Just five minutes from the President’s Mar-a-Lago Club, Bethesda-by-the-Sea can be reached by car up the Atlantic Ocean. It is the oldest Protestant church in the area and played an important role in the lives of the first family. In 2005, the president and first wife were married there. The following year, Barron was christened at the sanctuary by his parents. The couple has attended the Easter and Christmas Eve services every year, sometimes with other family members.

First lady Melania Trump took Mrs. Abe along to Bethesda-by-the-Sea when the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and his wife Akie Abe, visited Trump at Mar-a-Lago. “Proud that I share part of my familial history with Mrs. Abe in the Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea, where @POTUS and I were married. Where we celebrate. We pray,” Melania Trump wrote on her @FLOTUS Instagram page. She also included a photo of the church’s garden.

The president and first lady have entered Bethesda-by-the-Sea since their election. They enter from the south side, which allows them more direct access to the reserved seats toward the front.

Trump did not schedule the service, and church officials declined to confirm Trump’s attendance in the past.

Regular churchgoers are now familiar with the security measures in place before Trump’s arrival. Worshippers are taken through metal detectors. The purses of women are checked. The line of parishioners, clad in dark suits and earpieces, waits for their turn to enter the sanctuary that can hold 500 people.

Contrast to the towering stone structure, which was built in 1925 and inspired by the Gothic-style Cathedral Leon in Spain, were the white security tents and the red-and-blue flashing light of the nearby Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office cars. It’s a long way from Bethesda-by-the-Sea’s first structure, which was built using driftwood and old boxes in 1889.

Its beauty makes it an ideal location for weddings, tourists and photographers. Children can be seen playing in the courtyard with bougainvillea and palms on Sunday mornings. The east side of Bethesda-by-the-Sea is home to lush gardens full of flowering plants. The scene has a koi-pond and stone bridge that give it the feel of an English churchyard with a tropical twist.

It is a popular spot for celebrities and dignitaries alike. It has been a popular spot for past presidents, including Gerald Ford. There was also the ceremony where Michael Jordan married Yvette Prieto in 2013.