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Easter Sunday Marks Fifth Anniversary Of Attempt On President’s Life

March 30, 1986

SOLVANG, Calif. (AP) _ President Reagan marked the fifth anniversary of the 1981 attempt on his life by attending Easter services Sunday in a small Presbyterian church a few miles from his mountaintop ranch.

It was the president’s first attendance at a regular church service since Easter of 1984, when he worshiped with a congregation in Honolulu during a stopover on his trip to China.

He attended a special service at National Cathedral in Washington on the occasion of his second inauguration last year.

The president and his wife, Nancy, flew by helicopter from their Rancho del Cielo to Rancho Sierra Grande, about eight miles to the north, and then were driven in a motorcade to the Presbyterian Church of the Santa Ynez Valley, just outside Solvang.

They attended Easter services at the same church in 1983.

An aide, asked whether the president’s decsion to attend church was related to the anniversary of the asssassination attempt, said, ″I think it had something to do with it.″ The aide spoke on condition he not be identified.

Deputy White House press secretary Peter Roussel, asked why the Reagans went to church, said, ″Like many other Americans today, it was something they wanted to do and felt was appropriate.″

As to reasons for the secrecy about their plans to attend, Roussel said, the couple ″wanted to help assure a minimum disruption for the congregation, and that is why we didn’t announce their going earlier.″

The Reagans attended the 11 a.m. (PST) service, the third of three held Saunday at the church. Aides said the pastor, the Rev. Jeff Cotter, was not told that they were coming until after the 9 a.m. service. He was asked to save two seats for them and two for Secret Service agents.

The president wore a black suit and Mrs. Reagan a peach colored one.

As they arrived at the small church, about six miles from the center of Solvang, they were greeted by Cotter and by 6-year-old Keely Ryan, who presented Mrs. Reagan with a flower.

The front doors of the church were open and sunlight streamed in.

Inside the church, a wooden structure with a cathedral ceiling, wooden beams and a large wooden cross over the altar, the Reagans joined about 250 other worshipers in sitting on folding metal chairs.

Opening the service,Cotter noted the Reagans’ presence in front-row seats and said, ″We are excited and thrilled to have them as part of our church family today to be our guests.″

Later, during the prayers, he prayed ″that your holy spirit might continue to guide him (the president) in the decisions he has to make.″

The Reagans joined in singing ″Jesus Christ is Risen Today,″ and in a responsive reading of verses to 18 of Chapter 20 of the Gospel According to John, which tells of Christ’s disciples finding him missing from his tomb and his appearance to Mary Magdalene.

After the ushers passed down the aisle to collect the offering, Cotter told the president, ″We know it is a special day in this church when the ushers go right by somebody who wants to put something in the plate. That seldom happens. What we will do is try to get it later.″ One parishioner said the president had taken from his pocket what appeared to be a check.

Cotter also indulged in a joke at the expense of reporters covering the president’s trip to church.

″Actually, we’re very happy to have the president here,″ he said. ″It gives the news media a chance to get to church.″

In the sermon that climaxed the hour-long service, the pastor spoke on life, death and the Christian belief in immortality, saying at one point that ″life begins at conception″ -- a view shared by the president and other opponents of abortion.

At Rancho Sierra Grande, the Reagans were greeted by Mr. and Mrs. Jerry Phillips, the parents and parents-in-law of the owners of the property.

Stuart Gildred, a real estate deloper who bought the ranch from actor James Stewart about 12 years ago, was away on a fishing trip at Christmas Island in the Pacificc Ocean. His wife, Lynn, is the Phillips’ daughter.

The White House said the Reagans had lunch together after returning to the ranch and expected to go horseback riding in the afternoon.

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