BEL-AIR (CBSLA.com) — As Sunday services let out at Bel-Air Presbyterian Church on Sunday, many church-goers turned their focus from the sermon to the first family that once frequented their place of worship.
Even as news spread of former first lady Nancy Reagan’s passing at age 94, many church leaders and parishioners said the Reagans are still very much a part of their community.
Pastor Care Crawford was involved in the congregation when President Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy joined in 1989.
“When they were in town, they were in worship,” Crawford said.
“[I] had the privileged to pray with them,” she said. “I had the privilege to sing to them, a hymn. He loved hymns.”
Crawford’s most lasting memory of the first couple is their dedication to the church community. And their generosity. She said the Reagans donated their time, money and even clothing.
“I have smiled thinking about the here may be a homeless man or woman downtown wearing Ronald Reagan’s boots or Mrs. Reagan’s jacket or shirt because they generously gave from what they had,” she said.
Nancy Reagan was particularly fond of including others in church services, one parishioner said.
“She would open up her hymnal where the Bible verses were and hand it to the Secret Service so they could participate in the service as well,” parishioner Emil Lau said.
The first family no doubt stood out from everyday church-goers — they had their own roped-off pew, where they were sometimes joined by guests — but they still managed to fit in with the congregation, many said.
Still, when you’re the former leader of the free world and you’ve survived an assassination attempt, security measures of course had to be taken.
Crawford recalled the time a Sunday school teacher let her students bring in balloons.
“One popped during the service,” she said, “and of course, immediately, the secret service were over the Reagans and there was just this utter silence because we didn’t know what had happened. We heard this mom say, ‘It was my son’s balloon. It was my son’s balloon.’ And afterwards, at the door, I said ‘I’m so sorry about the balloon,’ and she said, ‘Balloons are not a good idea in church.’ And I said I think you are right.”