GUY RAZ, Host:
In Chicago today, the Trinity United Church of Christ held its first Sunday services in 20 years without Barack Obama as a member. Obama's faced months of criticism for his association with Trinity's controversial former pastor, the Revered Jeremiah Wright. The senator quit the church on Friday after a recent incident in which a visiting priest gave a sermon mocking Senator Hillary Clinton.
Obama's decision left some in the Trinity congregation surprised and disappointed, but as Chicago Public Radio's Sam Hudzik reports, there's no anger directed at Obama himself.
SAM HUDZIK: At the 7:00 a.m. service, Barack Obama's name was not spoken from the altar, but there were several indirect references to the controversy that's rocked the church in recent months.
Speaking from the pulpit, an assistant pastor urged the crowd of about 2,500 parishioners to forget the news media. One parishioner this morning flatly blamed the media for making the senator feel so uncomfortable with the church he had to quit, but Fred Pope didn't see it that way.
FRED POPE: He's a strong man. No one can force you. Again, the bottom line, if he stops serving God, then that would be a problem for me. He can go wherever he chooses to go.
HUDZIK: That sentiment of understanding was shared by many of the church-goers this morning, including a woman who identified herself as Miss Lemon.
LEMON: I guess he's doing what he feel that he has to do.
RAZ: Do you think it's what he had to do?
LEMON: Well, I don't think he had to do it, but that was his decision, and I stick by his decision.
HUDZIK: Lemon says some in the congregation may be upset by Obama's decision to leave Trinity, but she says despite his celebrity, the senator has never been the focal point of church services.
LEMON: I don't believe there was too much mention of Senator Obama in the first place, except for the praises that...
Unidentified Woman: ...stay away from the media.
RAZ: She's interrupted here when a woman leans out her car window and scolds her for talking to a reporter. Lemon shrugs it off, but you can't blame some in the congregation for feeling besieged by the media. Their church's name has become a political lightning rod, and this morning, four camera crews and a half-dozen reporters gathered outside.
But there's a sense that normalcy might soon return to Trinity. On his way to the 11 a.m. service, one man asked for his thoughts on Obama's resignation as a church member replied: I'm thinking about meeting God.
For NPR News, I'm Sam Hudzik in Chicago.