Attending Sunday School with Jimmy Carter

Over President’s Day weekend and on a trip to Florida Don and I stopped in Plains, Georgia, to attend Sunday School taught by former President Jimmy Carter.

Knowing to arrive early for the 10 a.m. class, we pulled into the Maranatha Baptist Church parking lot at 4:30 a.m. We were immediately greeted by John, a church member who chatted a bit about one of their former ministers from Nashville, and then advised us to limit what we brought into the church – like take only your car keys, a Bible if you brought one, and perhaps your phone. He then gave us a card with #60 on it and directed us to park.

We parked and slept in the car until about 7:15 when we noticed the Secret Service and its canine unit sniffing the cars. Soon Miss Jan, a retired school teacher aka “the Princess of Plains,” directed us from our cars to the front of the church.

Miss Jan poses for a quick picture after asking visitors to form a single file line by their arrival number

Miss Jan was very good at her job.

For the next several hours Miss Jan and Miss Jill (regretfully I have no photographs of Miss Jill) advised us and the other guests on what to expect and what was expected of us. They asked us not to clap or stand when the President enters, “after all, this is Sunday school” and “please don’t bring up current politics – we pray for the President at this church.”

Around 9 o’clock we learned that #60 would put us in the second row in the overflow room. The couple sitting next to us told us they had talked to cardholder #29 who had arrived at 2:50 that morning. Don responded that it would take George Washington to get him to church at 2:50 in the morning.

The overflow room turned out to be kind of nice and personal. Jimmy Carter walked in to visit us around 9:45 and began asking us where we lived or from where we had traveled. Often he would add a comment or two of his own based on where he’s lived or traveled. He was friendly, soft-deprecating and often humorous.

After asking questions of us, he asked if we had any questions for him. Several people raised their hands. One visitor asked what he had found most satisfying as President. He answered “working for peace” and then smiled and added “and retreats to Camp David.”

Jimmy Carter talking in the overflow room in his church
Jimmy Carter responding to visitor questions, Plains, GA

Carter then left to start the Sunday school lesson from the church sanctuary which we viewed from a screen above. The morning’s lesson was titled “You shall be holy” and was based on Leviticus 19:1-4, 9-18. The study materials framed the central question as “What does it mean to be holy?”

Carter introduced the study by sharing something he had learned from Miss Julia Coleman, one of his high school teachers: “we must adjust to changing times and still hold to unchanging principles.” It was something he had also included in his inaugural address.

He then turned to a discussion of the study materials which quoted Mother Teresa as saying, “Holiness does not consist in doing extraordinary things. It consists in accepting, with a smile, what Jesus sends us. It consists in following the will of God.”

The passage from Leviticus ends with “love they neighbor as thyself”and based on this verse, Carter challenged us to think of someone we know in need, perhaps an elderly person, perhaps someone else, and to spend the next week or so paying a little special attention to them. He said, “it can be as simple as baking a cake for them” and then he chuckled and added, “or maybe just sharing 1/2 of a cake you’ve baked with them.”

We stayed for the church service, a requirement for having your photograph taken with the Carters. The Church is currently without a pastor and so the Georgia Southwestern University Gospel Choir sang in lieu of a sermon. They were amazing.

Below are some other photographs from the morning:

Sanctuary, Maranatha Baptist Church, Plains, GA

the ever present and watchful Secret Service
our picture with the Carters – photograph courtesy of Miss Jill

Don and I are grateful to have had the opportunity to join the Carters for Sunday school and church. Had we had more time, we would have accepted their invitation to join them for lunch just down the street at the Silo Restaurant and Bakery. Maybe we can work that in on another visit – that and the peanut butter ice cream …

Thanks for following my blog.

4 Replies to “Attending Sunday School with Jimmy Carter”

  1. Hi Mary Rice/MC

    What a wonderful way to spend Presidents weekend. You are such a great storyteller with word and amazing photographs! I love the comment from your husband who from your blog seems like a very funny and kind man. I am also married to a funny and kind man who is willing to follow me to places that he might not have chosen himself. It is a blessing! Jimmy Carter and his wife are such positive role models. Why don’t more people want to emulate Jimmy rather than hyper self-centered power-crazy people? Anyway, let’s keep sending our peaceful vision out there! Thanks again for your encouragement. I have been holding myself back on writing for so long. It’s just going to take a while before I really believe in myself, but I am hopeful. I did send it in February-okay, almost last day 😛 but I did it, and it feels good.

    p.s.  You mentioned Etty Hillesum in a blog last year and I wanted to tell you that she lived here in Middelburg for a while, but I don’t remember the whole story, have been wanting to read her diary, but haven’t.

    How about if you and Dan should come stay with us, visit Middelburg and we’ll go check out this center together!  xo


    1. Chris Leedy – you are too kind, that’s why you need to keep your blog posts coming. Perhaps Don & I will be in Europe sometime next spring, not sure. Betsy will be in Edinburgh doing a study abroad program then so we’re at least considering it. Would be great seeing you again. If we were ever to visit Middleburg, I’d want to take one of your classes. 🙂


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