Inside USD

Audience for Alumnus’ Debut Sermon Includes President Obama

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

angell-photoUniversity of San Diego alumnus Mike Angell won’t soon forget his first sermon as a seminarian. The parishioners at Sunday’s 9 a.m. service at St. John’s Church in Washington, D.C., included President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and their daughters.

“It was wild,” he recalled, “having the president listen to me talk for 15 minutes.”

Angell ’05 was “a little nervous anyway” when he stepped off the Metro train toward the Episcopal church, located across the street from the White House. Focused on his debut sermon, Angell was unaware of the Obamas’ impending visit until he spotted Secret Service officials making preparations.

St. John’s Church has hosted every U.S. president since James Madison, according to the church’s Web site. It is popular for its close proximity to the White House and the Secret Service’s familiarity with it. The family sat in Pew 54, traditionally known as the President’s Pew. It was Obama’s third visit to St. John’s Church since becoming president and his first since Easter Sunday. He also attended service on inauguration day. The Obama family has yet to choose a permanent place of worship since moving into the White House.

Angell (seen at right in a file photo) did not get to personally greet the Obamas during the visit. Although there were moments when it appeared Obama made eye contact with him, Angell made a concerted effort not to stare during his sermon for fear that his “train of thought would get derailed.”

Using assigned readings from the Episcopal Church’s Lectionary — Hebrews 4:12-16 and Mark 10: 17-31 from the New Revised Standard Version translation of the bible — Angell spoke about how Christianity has consequences, that it requires boldness, but that an individual isn’t alone.

“God has a role, and your faith has a role in how you make decisions,” Angell said.

Faith has played an active role for Angell, who earned a degree in Theology and Religious Studies and minored in Spanish at USD. He credits Theology and Religious Studies professors Maria Pilar Aquino, Orlando Espin and Florence Gillman for their assistance during his time as a USD student. ”The education I received at USD really shaped the way I think about theology.”

Angell spent his first year out of college as a missionary volunteer at a foster home in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, where he took a deeper interest in Latin American theology and enhanced his Spanish-speaking skills. He spent the next two years as an Episcopal campus missioner at the University of California, San Diego, before moving to Alexandria, Virginia. He’s been a graduate student at the Virginia Theological Seminary since the fall of 2008 and is working toward ordination as an Episcopal priest.

— Ryan T. Blystone

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