Mitt Romney yesterday revealed a side of his life he’s rarely shown publicly when he attended Mormon religious services near his New Hampshire home in full view of the news media.
Romney, 65, is the first Mormon to clinch the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party, and he doesn’t speak often to voters about his faith in any great detail.
His church attendance was on display in large part because his campaign on Aug. 6 started allowing what’s called a protective pool of reporters to follow every movement he makes, whether by plane or by motor vehicle. While cameras weren’t allowed inside the church in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, a small group of reporters were allowed to attend and take notes.
The presumptive Republican nominee sat three-quarters of the way to the back of the church. He was joined by his wife, Ann, his son Tagg, daughter-in-law Jen and their six children.
The church visit came on a day that included dueling demonstrations of piety from the 2012 presidential candidates. President Barack Obama, who periodically attends church services, worshiped with his family at St. John’s Episcopal Church one block from the White House in Washington.
Romney arrived at the building that houses the resort community’s branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints just minutes before the service began. His fellow congregants, about 100 in total, paid little attention to him, and there was no mention of his presence during the more than hour-long service.
After the second hymn was sung, boys and men walked through the congregation distributing sacramental pieces of white bread and tiny cups of water that symbolize the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ, similar to communion among Roman Catholics and some other Christian denominations. Taking the sacrament is a sign of repentance and a commitment to follow the church’s commandments in the future.
Throughout the service, both Mitt and Ann Romney helped care for the grandchildren seated with them in a room filled with a constant hum of children. At one point, Romney held a grandson on his lap and quietly read children’s books to him.
On occasion, the former Massachusetts governor looked down at his lap. He carried an iPad with him into the church. Aides said he sometimes uses it to read scripture.
At one point, Ann Romney went to the front of the church to join about 40 other women forming what a music leader called an instant choir, singing “Because I Have Been Given Much.”
The service included testimonials from three generations of the Marriott family. The final speaker was Richard Marriott, an heir of the hotel chain’s founder, who said he’d been coming to Wolfeboro every summer for seven decades. He has given at least $1 million to Restore Our Future, a super political action committee backing Romney’s candidacy, according to the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics.
When the speakers were finished, the congregation sang “I Need Thee Every Hour,” a hymn about turning to Jesus to resist temptation and finding peace amid trials. After a closing prayer, Romney stood and shook hands with those around him.
The reporters were then escorted from the church and were informed that Romney would be staying inside longer to attend a Sunday school meeting.
The Romney family has attended services in the town on many occasions while vacationing, and the candidate rarely misses weekly services, even while traveling.
Romney’s faith has been a central part of his life and his ties to the church have boosted him in Western states with large Mormon populations and helped his fundraising.
On those occasions when Romney talks about his religion, he usually discusses his time as a missionary in France or time he has spent counseling others as a church bishop.
Romney’s church visit followed a two-day fundraising push that his campaign said netted about $7 million and included stops in the Hamptons in New York and on Martha’s Vineyard, Cape Cod and Nantucket in Massachusetts.
The White House took note of the president’s church visit yesterday with an unusual accounting of his worship in Washington: Obama and the first family have enjoyed worshiping with a number of D.C.-area congregations, the White House said in an issued statement. They have attended services at 19th Street Baptist Church, the Washington National Cathedral, Allen Chapel A.M.E. Church, Vermont Avenue Baptist Church, Metropolitan A.M.E. Church, Shiloh Baptist Church, Zion Baptist Church, and multiple services at St. John’s Episcopal Church and Evergreen Chapel at Camp David in Maryland.
-- Editors: Mark Silva, Ann Hughey