MUSCATINE, Iowa — Donald Trump is not usually a candidate who invokes the words of evangelical voters. But on Sunday, he went to church in eastern Iowa, where he studied “humility,” he later told attendees at a rally.
Trump sat for the entire service, which lasted more than an hour, at First Presbyterian Church here, accompanied by Deborah Whitaker, whose son was killed in an accident shortly after returning from a tour of duty.
From the front of the church, the pastor acknowledged the presence of Trump, who sat in the fifth pew, with Whitaker to his right, sharing a book of prayer. When the collection plate was passed, Trump tossed in money; two crisp $50 bills peeked out from under a handful of singles minutes later.
He listened to a children’s chorus and shook hands with people sitting behind him when it came time to offer greetings to others. Two of his security guards sat behind him. His campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, and his spokeswoman, Hope Hicks, sat in the pew in front of him.
Religious voters are a major factor in the Iowa caucuses, the opening event in the presidential nominating calendar, and Trump has been working hard to reach them. His chief challenger, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, is a conservative son of a preacher and he has made deep inroads with evangelicals.
Trump sometimes reminds people of his Presbyterian faith but has generally avoided speaking the language of the more-religious voters in the Iowa caucuses. But at a rally on Sunday, he mentioned attending church.
“We talked about humility in church today,” Trump told the crowd. “I don’t know if that was aimed at me. Perhaps,” he joked, drawing laughs.
One reading during the service, about the importance of humility, included a reference that caught Trump’s ear.
‘‘Can you imagine eye telling hand, ‘Get lost, I don’t need you’ or hearing the head telling the foot, ‘You’re fired, your job has been phased out?’ ’’ the reader said. ‘‘You’re fired!’’ was Trump’s signature catchphrase when he hosted ‘‘The Apprentice’’ television show.
‘‘I heard that,’’ Trump later said, when asked about the reference. ‘‘I wondered if that was for me. They didn’t even know I was coming, so I doubt it. But it’s an appropriate phrase.’’
In her sermon, the pastor, the Rev. Dr. Pamela Saturnia, also made several references with resonance for the 2016 race.
‘‘Jesus is teaching us today that he has come for those who are outside of the church,’’ she said, preaching a message of healing and acceptance for ‘‘those who are the most unloved, the most discriminated against, the most forgotten in our community and in our world.’’
Trump was last seen going to church on New Year’s Eve in Florida.
Backstage, he told a handful of reporters that he enjoyed the service. “I have more humility than people think,” he said.
But he sounded a serious note about the final stretch before the Iowa caucuses. “It’s crunch time, folks,” Trump said. “I mean, I wanna win Iowa. I really wanna win it.”
He acknowledged that the polls that lead up to the voting are not what ultimately matter.
“The polls have me winning now, but who knows about polls, I mean the only poll is the poll that takes place on Feb. 1, so we’ll see what happens,” he said.
From the stage at his rally, Trump repeatedly urged the crowd to go take part in their caucuses, even handing out registration forms.