At Obama's church service, hymns, prayers - and a tweet?

WASHINGTON Tue Jan 22, 2013 3:31am IST

U.S. President Barack Obama arrives at St. John's Church for a service prior to inauguation ceremonies in Washington, January 21, 2013. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

U.S. President Barack Obama arrives at St. John's Church for a service prior to inauguation ceremonies in Washington, January 21, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Joe Skipper

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - There was preaching, praying and singing at President Barack Obama's church service on Inauguration Day on Monday. But was there tweeting, too?

As Atlanta pastor Andy Stanley wrapped up his sermon at St. John's Episcopal Church across from the White House by urging Obama to leverage his power for the greater good, a tweet went out from the president's own Twitter feed.

"I'm honored and grateful that we have a chance to finish what we started. Our work begins today. Let's go. -bo," said the tweet, which went to more than 26 million Obama followers.

Obama typically designates tweets that he writes himself by signing his initials in lowercase: "-bo." That led to questions over whether the president had tweeted from church - and perhaps provided a new chapter in the debate over the appropriate use of social media.

But a White House spokesman said Obama did not send the tweet in the middle of the church service.

That means it could have been done by Obama in advance and timed for release while he was in church, or that it was posted by Organizing for Action, the non-profit group that now operates the president's Twitter account.

The new group, which is led by Obama's former campaign team, plans to try to build public support for the president's policies.

The group did not immediately comment on the authorship or timing of the tweet.

Even if Obama had sent out the tweet from church, such messages from the pew are no longer taboo, said Scott Williams, a pastor and consultant from Edmond, Oklahoma, who works with ministries to use social media to spread the word and engage members.

"It's definitely OK - it's relevant," he said. He cited a verse from the prophet Isaiah: "Like a crane or a swallow, so did I twitter."

"'Thou shalt twitter in church' is a way that I present it," Williams said in an interview, noting that many people now used Bible apps on their mobile devices in the pews.

Stanley's North Point Community Church in Atlanta produced a Christmas music video for iPhones and iPads that has been viewed 3.7 million times on YouTube, said Williams, who is familiar with the 33,000-member ministry.

Stanley delivered his sermon in a very "old-school" setting. St. John's, a yellow church with white trim, was built in 1816 and often is called the "Church of the Presidents" because every president since James Madison has attended it at least occasionally.

The service included a mix of traditional hymns such as "Oh God, Our Help in Ages Past," a gospel solo by singer Ledisi, and an African-American spiritual, "Great Day." It also included readings and prayers from Jewish, Christian and Catholic clergy.

Stanley talked about a passage in the Bible where Jesus washes his disciples' feet, setting an example of equality.

"What do you do when it dawns on you that you're the most powerful person in the room? You leverage that power for the benefit of other people in the room," Stanley said.

"Mister President, you have an awfully big room," the pastor said. "It's as big as our nation. At times, as you know, it's as big as this world."

(Editing by David Lindsey and Peter Cooney)

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