WOLFEBORO, N.H. (AP) — Every year, Mitt Romney and his family spend a week at his estate on the picturesque Lake Winnipesaukee. They go boating, play games — and attend church, an expression of the faith that’s fundamentally shaped the Republican presidential candidate.
Romney, the first Mormon to clinch the presidential nomination of a major party, attended services Sunday with his wife, Ann, five sons, five daughters-in-law and eighteen grandchildren. They made up nearly a third of the congregation that gathered in the small, nondescript building that houses this tiny resort town’s branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
The Romney clan has attended the church in Wolfeboro many times before — only now the family patriarch carries the distinction of being President Barack Obama’s Republican challenger.
Not that church leaders or worshipers mentioned the new reality as, one by one, they stood at a podium to offer testimony, a custom in Mormon churches on the first Sunday of every month. Among those testifying: one of the many Romney grandchildren.
“My name is Chloe Romney and I’m visiting here from California,” the candidate’s middle-school-age granddaughter said from the church’s lectern, a pink flower in her hair. “I know that my family loves me and I like to go to church.”
The family’s devotion to the Mormon faith is a part of Romney’s life that the electorate rarely sees. Romney himself almost never mentions it in public. And his campaign typically bars the media from seeing him participate in a religion with which many Americans are unfamiliar. But it’s a part of his life that could help him connect with an American public that’s only just now starting to get to know him — one that includes many church-goers.
Romney’s campaign doesn’t tell reporters when Romney is going to church. But the Wolfeboro branch is open to visitors and an Associated Press reporter attended the same sacrament service the Romney family attended. It featured bread with water instead of wine, a variation on communion that allows for the Mormon prohibition on drinking alcohol.
And it provided a rare glimpse into his practice of a faith that has permeated every aspect of Romney’s life: his childhood, his college years and time as a missionary, his marriage, his life in Boston, even his business career.
Mormonism began in the 1830s when, according to believers, an angel presented another book of scripture to Joseph Smith, the church’s founder, called the Book of Mormon. With 14.4 million members, the church is among the fastest growing in the world, supported by a full-time missionary force of about 55,000 young people. Romney has been an active Mormon all his life, so involved in the church at one point that he rose to a rank equivalent to a bishop. He eventually presided over a group of congregations.
During his presidential campaign, the demands of Romney’s faith can dictate how he spends his time; it requires as many as three hours nearly every Sunday for services. According to people familiar with his private schedule, Romney goes to church nearly every week. His faith also helps drive his fundraising; a significant amount of money comes from wealthy Mormon donors. And Mormon households across the country often housed campaign aides as they moved from state to state during the GOP primary.
When Romney does talk about his faith, he discloses little and usually focuses on his time as a missionary in France. He offered a forceful explanation of the role of faith in his own life during a recent speech at Liberty University that was aimed at bridging differences with evangelicals, many of whom are skeptical of Mormon theology.
“Culture — what you believe, what you value, how you live — matters,” Romney said during the May speech that avoided all direct references to Mormonism. “What we have, what we wish we had — ambitions fulfilled, ambitions disappointed, investments won, investments lost, elections won, elections lost — these things may occupy our attention, but they do not define us.”
This week’s Sunday service was a cornerstone of a week that will see all 30 members of the Romney clan pack into the family’s sprawling lakefront estate.
They’ll gather for family dinners, waterski on the lake, paddleboard off the beach and discuss family affairs, all traditions the family has been developing at this home for more than a decade.
This year, questions about whom Romney will choose as his vice presidential running mate hang over his vacation — though there was little sign of politics after church on Sunday, as Romney relaxed barefoot on his back deck with youngest son Craig and eldest Tagg, who held one of his recently born twin sons. On the lawn below, a team of photographers set up lights in preparation for the annual family picture.
Earlier, at the service, Romney sat next to his wife, with grandchildren occupying the rest of the row. He sang along during the service’s three hymns, holding his iPad underneath his navy blue hymnal. Some of the kids — who range in age from a few weeks old to 16 years — grew restless during the long service. At different points, several walked over to receive a kind smile and quiet word from their grandfather.
As the first section of the service concluded, Romney and the congregation sang all the verses of “America the Beautiful,” a song the candidate often quotes on the campaign trail. Many attendees departed while others prepared for the second portion of the service, a Sunday school for adults.
While church leaders moved to close partitions to prepare for the school, Romney chatted at length with others who had come to the service, including several who wore “Romney” pins on their lapels.
Romney has been visiting Wolfeboro for decades, first coming here with his father, George Romney, to visit the J.W. Marriott family. The Marriott family played a significant role in building the Mormon church in Wolfeboro several decades ago.
The branch president, Matthew Jensen, said there are now more than 60 Marriott family members who will appear in Wolfeboro — and at church — sometime in the summer. They haven’t arrived yet, so the Romneys have the largest contingent.
Follow Kasie Hunt on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/kasie
More Related Stories
- If Alex Pareene was a cable news executive...
- Portland's senseless war on fluoride
- Graphic video reportedly shows possible London machete attack suspect
- What economists get wrong about the jobs crisis
- Ted Cruz: "I don't trust the Republicans"
- Pa. governor "can't find" any Latinos to work in his administration
- Glenn Beck: "The American people have just been raped"
- "Original Coca-Cola had a very small amount of cocaine"
- Corporations accused of wrongdoing win battle to keep identities secret
- Weak, incompetent Democrats blow another one
- Lois Lerner, IRS disaster
- Cyber attacks could cause the next world war
- Donald Rumsfeld worried that marriage equality will lead to polygamy
- Experts: Fox News spying scandal a game-changer
- Biden cracks Obama teleprompter joke
- IRS official takes the Fifth: "I have not done anything wrong"
- Lessons from Lincoln leave gay immigrants behind
- Los Angeles elects first Jewish mayor
- Peter King: There's "hypocrisy" over aid by Oklahoma senators
- Anthony Weiner announces run for NYC mayor
- How policy nihilists in the Senate doomed LGBT immigrants
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11