This past weekend we traveled a few hours south to see President Carter in his home town of Plains, GA where he regularly offers a Sunday lesson as part of the worship service at his hometown church, Maranatha Baptist Church. He’s 92, a warm and humble and welcoming human. You can visit him too, any weekend he’s in town (and that’s almost every Sunday this spring), we ecstatically recommend making the trip.
Advised to arrive early, we showed up in the dark at 7am for what turned out to be a lightly attended day due to below-freezing temperatures, and had an hour wait in the car followed by the requisite two hours of Secret Service and church community member orientation. The church is small, with 25 active members and seating for a few hundred including the overflow meeting room in the back. This is an intimate small town ministry, as with so much of Plains and the Carters it is largely unchanged from 1976: they still live in the ranch home they built in the 1960s, and go to church with high-school friends and relatives, plus us curious visitors.
President Carter spoke with the us for about 40 minutes, starting with current politics, reiterating his life-long commitment to furthering peace and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as embodiment of world religious ideals for living good lives in a global human society, and diving into the week’s readings from the Apostle Paul’s letters to Titus and Philippians. When he asks the congregation open-endedly “what do you know about Paul?”, you see a man confident in teaching, with no worries of being stumped on a favorite topic, and pursuing a life of Christ-like humility and disinterest in worldly measures of success.
If you stay on for the regular Sunday service of hymns and preaching by a guest minister, you can get your picture taken with the Carters, and attempt to match the glowing smiles of these two wonderful people.