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Hundreds of open arms welcome Deval Patrick at Mattapan church

A tear rolled down Deval Patrick's cheek during the sermon Sunday at Morning Star Baptist Church. He was sitting with his wife, Diane.
A tear rolled down Deval Patrick's cheek during the sermon Sunday at Morning Star Baptist Church. He was sitting with his wife, Diane.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Heading a fledging presidential campaign beset from the start by criticism, former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick was welcomed with open arms Sunday at Morning Star Baptist Church, where he and his wife, Diane, share a bond with the congregation, the pastor said.

When Patrick stood at the pulpit inside the Mattapan house of worship Sunday morning, he sounded right at home citing Scripture and speaking of his personal relationship with God, using the language and values of a shared faith and shared life experiences to frame his candidacy.

Speaking of the need for change in Washington, Patrick quoted a biblical verse about Isaiah’s calling to be a prophet and suggested that — though he sees himself as “just as broken and unfinished as everybody else”— he feels a pull to heed a calling.

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“Who will go for us? For us?” he asked, his voice rising, during his eight-minute message to the congregation. “Not me. Not one candidate, not one party. For us. All of us.

“For all the folks dealing with income inequality — before it became ‘a thing,’ ” he continued. “For the folks who were dealing with opioid addiction before it reached the suburbs. For the folks who were dealing with division and exclusion before it became the daily attitude and activity of the current president of the United States.”

Patrick didn’t name President Trump, but said the current administration “didn’t create so much as expose and make worse the extent of America’s unfinished business,” an amorphous phrase he turned to again and again in describing societal inequities.

He told the congregation he couldn’t ask in church for their votes, but he could ask them to see their stake in his cause and consider “what it might be like to actually be a United States.”

“We may just have the best chance in years to finish America’s unfinished business,” he said.

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The two-term former governor has met with mixed responses as he crisscrosses the country to build his campaign in a late stage of an already crowded Democratic race. Even voters who like his policies say they doubt he will win the nomination.

Patrick greeted churchgoers upon arriving at Morning Star Baptist.
Patrick greeted churchgoers upon arriving at Morning Star Baptist.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

And shortly before Sunday’s service, another long-shot candidate viewed as a moderate, former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, officially announced his bid for the Democratic nomination. Patrick declined to speak to reporters inside the church and did not comment on Bloomberg’s entry into the race.

Much of the service’s message was spiritual, not political, though Bishop John M. Borders III, the church’s pastor, reflected during his sermon on the path he took as a young man and the different road taken by Patrick, who at 63 is roughly Borders’s contemporary.

Patrick wiped away a tear as Borders spoke of the scholarship organization A Better Chance, which sent the young Chicago native to Milton Academy and set him on a path to Harvard College and Harvard Law School.

Borders said he had been presented with a similar opportunity when he was young but told his mother, “Mama, you know, I’m singing in The Energetics now. . . . I’m going to see if we’re going to make it famous.”

Despite that decision, Borders said, here he and Patrick were: “two poor boys that came from the inner city: One is running for the president of the United States of America, and the other is preaching to him!”

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Borders also gave a shout-out to former city councilor Tito Jackson in the congregation, and said he prays for victory for City Council candidate Julia Mejia, who was also present and is awaiting a recount in the at-large race after she bested Alejandra St. Guillen, by just eight votes.

After the service, the Patricks exchanged handshakes and hugs with many old friends and new supporters, including 12-year-old Charles Varrs, who asked the former governor to autograph an art project that the boy had drawn in Bible study.

“To Charles — With high hope, for you!” Patrick wrote above his signature.

Charles said he admires the former governor and “thought that it was a dream at first” when he met him face-to-face.

His mother, Monique Varrs, 49, a lifelong Dorchester resident, said she and her children had met Patrick during his governorship at an event at Codman Square Health Center and been impressed by the way he took time to speak with them — and to listen.

“He cares for the community,” she said. “I really do believe that he’s going to be what we need in the White House.”

Patrick took to the stage during the service.
Patrick took to the stage during the service.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff
The Patricks embraced Bishop John M. Borders III during the service.
The Patricks embraced Bishop John M. Borders III during the service.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.