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Autograph Hounds Pester Famous Worshipers : Religion: Ronald and Nancy Reagan began attending services at Bel Air Presbyterian in 1965 and joined it after leaving the White House.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

As Bel Air Presbyterian Church settles into its new sanctuary, it has requested members, guests and visitors not to pester its most famous worshipers.

Although Ronald and Nancy Reagan began attending services there in 1965 and joined the church after leaving the White House in early 1989, they are still approached for autographs before and after worship, church officials say.

“We would like to give President and Mrs. Reagan the opportunity to worship with us in a normal and uninterrupted manner,” last Sunday’s church bulletin announced.

The announcement said autograph requests should be made to Reagan’s office in Century City.

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The Rev. Steven Marsh, associate pastor for evangelism, said the Reagans “are very cordial when people ask them to sign their books or pose for pictures, but it has been happening every Sunday.”

They have been regular in attendance.

Marsh said he remembered “only seven or eight times they’ve missed a service here” since they left the White House in 1989 and returned to Los Angeles.

“We have accommodated the Secret Service by reserving a certain spot for them to sit, but it is not roped off,” Marsh said.

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In the church’s new sanctuary, dedicated Friday night, the wooden pews, which have no arm rests separating parishioners, “will fill up as usual on a first-come, first-served basis,” he said.

The Reagans often attended the church in the 1970s but didn’t join because they couldn’t attend the required eight successive classes for new members, according to the Rev. Donn D. Moomaw, the church’s senior pastor.

Although their views differed on some social-moral issues, Moomaw and Reagan became friends.

As governor of California, Reagan appointed Moomaw to the State Board of Education.

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In 1981, Moomaw was the only clergyman invited to say prayers at Reagan’s first presidential inauguration.

He was one of several clergymen participating in Reagan’s second inauguration four years later.

Reagan, raised in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), has appeared to be comfortable with Bel Air Presbyterian’s evangelical, theologically conservative approach within the liberal-to-moderate Presbyterian Church.

In 1987, however, Reagan took exception to the denomination’s stance opposing his Administration’s policies in Central America.

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After Reagan phoned Moomaw to inquire about it, the pastor arranged for Reagan and State Department officials to discuss the matter with Presbyterian leaders in the White House.


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