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Shed wealth, minister tells Bush family, congregants

KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine -- When the president worships on the road, it is customary for the pastor to pretend he's not there -- or to, at most, greet him and maybe remember him in a prayer.

No one told that to the Very Rev. Martin Luther Agnew Jr., who was up from Shreveport, La., for eight weeks as the summer minister at St. Ann's Episcopal Church, less than a mile from the Bush family estate at Walker Point.

Saturday was George P. Bush's wedding, to a Texas lawyer. So his uncle, President Bush, spent the weekend at his folks' place, and 10 or so Bushes went to the 8 a.m. service at St. Ann's. The dynasty, including Governor Jeb Bush of Florida, who is the president's brother and George P. Bush's father, got an exhortation about the biblical imperative to sell your goods and give the proceeds to the poor.

Agnew got personal during his message about tithing and stewardship. He began by acknowledging he had ruffled some feathers the previous week, when he warned that gated communities ''tend to keep out God's people."

Plunging ahead, he singled out the George H.W. Bush's golf prowess during a parable designed to make the point that an ''intimate, meaningful relationship" with Christ requires shunning earthly possessions.

''Our material gifts do not have to be a wall -- they can very well be a door," Agnew said. Then, referring to Luke 12:33, the minister said, ''Jesus says, 'Sell your possessions and give alms.' "

''I'm convinced that what we keep owns us, and what we give away sets us free," he said.

A plaque in the church entryway notes that the organ is dedicated in memory of the former president's mother, Dorothy Walker Bush, ''whose family provided the lead gifts." Former president Bush is listed in the bulletin as an emeritus vestryman.

Agnew held up a golf iron and asked his flock to imagine the first President Bush taking repeated swings to try to hit a ball out of the rough. The former president made what Agnew called ''a mighty swing" at the ball, resting atop an anthill, and missed, killing about 346 ants.

With Agnew brandishing the club for effect, he said the former president whiffed again and killed 641 ants.

The former president continued to swing wildly, in Agnew's telling, and finally one ant said to another, ''If we're going to live, we better get on the ball."

This was received with silence in a church where the parking lot was full of Volvos, Mercedes, BMWs, and Land Rovers.

''What God is reminding us to do," Agnew said, ''is to get on the ball."

Barbara Bush looked at her husband with a small smile. Her son the president nodded a few times, but the former president sat stone-faced through the story, according to an Associated Press reporter who had a good view of them.

It was an unusually stoic reaction for ''old number 41," as the 43d president calls him. The elder Bush had been kidding around all weekend, merrily hurtling right at photographers in his 825-horsepower speedboat, Fidelity III, then making sure to spray them with his wake as he suddenly turned away.

After the parable, Agnew stepped down into the pews and jovially high-fived the former president. Old number 41 sportingly returned the gesture, but did not smile during the rest of the sermon.

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