Bush Listens to Sermon on Material Wealth

Mon Aug 9,11:29 AM ET

By SCOTT LINDLAW, Associated Press Writer

KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine - A clergyman implored his affluent congregation, including President Bush (news - web sites)'s family, to jettison their material possessions, gently mocking George H.W. Bush's struggles on the golf course to drive home his point.

The Very Rev. Martin Luther Agnew preached Sunday to a packed Episcopal church just down the road from the Bush family's seaside estate. Its oceanfront parking lot was filled with luxury cars made by Jaguar, Mercedes, BMW and Volvo, testament to the wealth of the summer visitors at this southeast Maine resort.

"Gated communities," Agnew said, "tend to keep out God's people." But, he said, "Our material gifts do not have to be a wall."

"They can very well be a door. Jesus says, `Sell your possessions and give alms,'" Agnew said. "I'm convinced that what we keep owns us, and what we give away sets us free."

Agnew, a guest minister from Louisiana whose summer assignment ended Sunday, swung a golf club to get his message across to the vacationing congregation.

The sermon culminated with a joke about the first President Bush's battle to chip a golf ball out of an anthill. Swinging the club in a mock re-enactment, Agnew said Bush had swung twice and whiffed completely, wiping out hundreds of ants.

The ants got together and agreed: "If we're going to live, we better get on the ball!"

The former president sat stone-faced through this parable, even as his family, including the current President Bush, looked at him and smiled.

The ex-president gamely high-fived Agnew when the priest approached the second pew.

"Brothers and sisters, what God is inviting us to do is get on the ball," Agnew said, again imploring his audience to part with their possessions.

The Bush family that gathered at the front of the church Sunday morning is wealthy by any measure. They convened here at the 11-acre family compound owned by the former president and perched on the Atlantic Ocean. It is worth millions of dollars.

The current president lists among his assets his Texas ranch, worth between $1 million and $5 million. He also has U.S. Treasury notes valued at $5 million to $8.7 million. He sold his share of the Texas Rangers baseball team in 1998 for more than $15 million.

Also in the stone-and-mortar church were Bush's three brothers, Jeb, Neil and Marvin, first lady Laura Bush and Barbara Bush, the former first lady.

The family were gathered here for the wedding Saturday of Jeb Bush's son George Prescott Bush.

From church, the president and former president went fishing, their third expedition on the power boat in three days.

President Bush was to return to Washington Sunday afternoon.

His weekend outing was a last breather before a week of heavy campaigning through Virginia, Florida, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Oregon, Washington and Iowa.