1924– PRESIDENT FROM 1989 TO 1993
The old house in Beijing that served as a makeshift church was unremarkable, ill-kept, and for the American envoy and his wife, a far cry from the traditional Episcopal sanctuaries of home. The services were in Chinese. The ministers were Anglican, Methodist, and Presbyterian. The Sunday congregation—about a dozen in all, typical for this house-church—included a mix of African, European, and Asian Protestants whose native tongues made an enthusiastic cacophony of familiar hymns.
But for the American envoy (or unofficial ambassador) to China, George Herbert Walker Bush, the odd setting became a treasured church home, offering “unbelievable” and “most moving” services that (as he wrote in his diary) “we wouldn’t miss.”1 On a typical Sunday, Bush wrote: “Sunday, our little church service. Head count—two African ladies, one African man, three Canadians, two Bushes, four Chinese in the audience, and one preacher. They sing the most wonderful hymns. ‘Nearer My God to Thee,’ ‘Holy, Holy, Holy.’ All the old favorites. It is a nice touch.”2
No service in that unlikely sanctuary may have been more important to the future president and his wife, Barbara, than the one that took place on June 29, 1975, at the Chongwenmen Church. Bush was serving as U.S. envoy to China during a time when that country’s Communist government severely restricted the practice of Christianity. Yet he had managed not only to convince the Chinese to permit the baptism of his youngest child on that day; he had also managed to gather three of her four far-flung brothers (including the eldest, George W.) for the event. It was, as Bush wrote, “A very special day, an occasion.”
Dorothy, or “Doro” as she was called, was fifteen years old, the youngest of five children, and the only daughter. She was the girl Bush had prayed for after the loss of the couple’s second child, Robin, who died of leukemia in 1959, just weeks before her fourth birthday.