Posts Tagged With: Sunday school

A Week with President Jimmy and Mrs. Rosalynn Carter

Last Saturday, April 29, when I arrived in Plains, Georgia, I assumed I would have a chance to meet the Carters. After all, he was teaching Sunday school in the sanctuary and I was preaching there immediately after—for two Sundays.

I’ve never been to this section of Georgia, so I had a couple of places on my “to do” list for the week—Koinonia Farm, the Habitat for Humanity Global Village, and the Andersonville Prison. All three of these were pilgrimages. Clarence Jordan, author of the Cotton Patch translation of the New Testament, was a huge influence on my young life. Greenlawn Baptist Church and I built the first Habitat for Humanity House in Columbia, SC. I said the first cuss word on a South Carolina Habitat site when a nail punctured my flesh in an inconvenient place. Andersonville prison, as someone posted on Facebook, is the saddest place in America and its story needs to be told.

The President Carter component of the week many of you have seen on Facebook was pure serendipity. My boarding house hostess is, it appears to me, the primary source of orientation for the guests at Maranatha Baptist Church, where the former Leader of the Free World teaches Sunday school. She talks to the gathered congregation before Sunday school about protocol. She makes sure the Carters’ needs are met and is very protective of their privacy. Between Sunday school and worship, in the seclusion of a church office, she (Jill Stuckey) asked if the Carters might be interested in having a meal with the guest preacher (me) sometime during the week. President Carter answered, “Let’s see how he preaches first.”

That’s an honest man. (I didn’t know this story until later.)

Of course, the Carters and I spoke to one another briefly after worship and after pictures had been taken with everyone else. That was a pleasure and an honor, and I was a happy camper.

President and Mrs. Carter returned to Sunday evening church. That was a surprise. They were good listeners. They seemed to like what I had to say.

Later, Jill told me we’d been invited to dinner at the Carter’s on Monday night. I actually prepared some questions in case we had time for serious conversation. I don’t intend to share details of a private evening, but this is worth repeating:

In response to one question, he said, “Be flexible for changing times, but cling to enduring principles.”

Two Mrs. Carters were at dinner. Billy Carter’s wife, Sybil, joined us for dinner. I thoroughly enjoyed her part in table conversation. After dinner, we admired the audacity of a raccoon eating his supper from a bird feeder. He did not seem particularly threatened by the 39th President, but he eventually ambled away.

On Tuesday, I played the tourist, visiting President Carter’s boyhood home and other attractions around Plains. I understand the President was turkey hunting. Sunday school teacher, author, volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, hunter, fisherman, peacekeeper, humanitarian, husband, father, artist, furniture-maker, eradicator of diseases (through the Carter Center in Atlanta) and who-knows-what-else? The former President stays busy.

On Wednesday, I visited the POW Museum and the Andersonville Prison about which I blogged earlier this week.

Meanwhile, I discovered the Carters were coming over for Thursday supper as long as I cooked. Landlady Jill claims she’s not a chef, but my Mom taught me how to prepare a meal long ago. Everybody in my family loves breakfast for supper, so I bought sausage, bacon, berries, milk, eggs, coffee and pancake mix and prepared a meal. Folks have asked if I fed the Secret Service. Yes. Sybil Carter and one of the other boarders here also joined us.

Today, Friday, Nelle Ariail, wife of the former pastor at Maranatha Baptist Church, escorted me to Americus and sites of interest there.

There’s a big front porch on the boarding house, and I’ve spent a good hunk of my free time there reading.

Sunday will roll around again, and my plan is simple: Go to Sunday school and hear a good lesson and then preach. After lunch and a nap, I’ll preach again on Sunday night.

“The boundaries have fallen for me in pleasant places.” Psalm 16: 6



Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Family, Health, Holiday, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Sunday School at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia

Here’s the bottom line of this blog: If you’ve never attended Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia, to hear President Jimmy Carter teach Sunday school, you need to put that on your short term bucket list.

This is a unique experience. One-of-a-kind. Unparalleled. This humble Christian, former President of the most powerful nation on earth and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, stands in front of a sanctuary full (about 300 people) of pilgrims to Plains almost every Sunday. He delivers, without notes, his understanding of a selected Bible text.

Maranatha Baptist Church invited me to preach for them today (April 30) and next Sunday (May 7). Home from my four months in Connecticut, I gladly accepted.

Long an admirer of Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, I’ve looked forward to being in Plains at the same time as the Carters so I could participate in Sunday school at Maranatha Baptist Church. My daughter Julie and I attended the Baptist World Alliance in Birmingham, England, in 2005, and President Carter taught the Sunday school lesson there to a couple thousand of us gathered in a civic arena of some sort. That was a good, but different, experience.

The church members of Maranatha, a small congregation, are the unsung heroes of this ministry. They arrive at the church as early as 5:30 on Sunday morning to begin their hospitality ministry to out-of-town, out-of-state, and out-of-country guests. This morning, worshipers gathered from half a dozen or more countries and twenty or thirty states. The locals are gracious in sharing their church with visitors from afar, as well as with Secret Service agents. Before Sunday school, the church’s guests are given an often-humorous lecture about protocol, what to expect, and what not to expect. No clapping. You don’t clap for your Sunday school teacher, after all, do you? Today, Jill Stuckey gave the speech. She charmed everyone, but she was also clear about appropriate behavior. This is a Baptist church, after all. You can’t be too careful.

After church, members and guests are likely to adjourn to The Cafeteria, a local eatery owned by Jody Monts. I ate supper there Saturday night, pork chops and turnips, and she asked me if I was in town to go to Sunday school. I told her I was preaching. I ate lunch there again today, baked chicken, dressing, collards, and sweet potato pie. There were other choices, but snails were not on the menu if you’re hoping for French food. This is Southern cooking. I’ll weigh four hundred pounds by this time next week.

I’ve not been in Plains for twenty-four hours yet. But I’m enthusiastic about being here. Nearby is Koinonia Farms and I’m going there tomorrow with a church member. I’ll report on the remainder of the week, I’m sure, but I wanted to get this message across:

Plan a trip to Jimmy Carter’s Sunday school class at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia. You’ll thank yourself later!

Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Holiday, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

A Gift of Advent

Over the past few years, I have become exasperatedly aware how Big the Bible is. I’ve read it all my life—I don’t know how many times. I’ve even read the New Testament in Greek.

The Holy Book is HUGE—containing 66 smaller books, some of them not-so-short. Some texts are enigmatic. All are written in languages foreign to me. Some of the Bible is fiction—that’s what a parable is. Paul even resorts to sarcasm. There is no end to conversations and debates about the Bible.

Three years, at least, is how long a pastor needs to preach through the Bible, and that requires skipping a lot of texts. A sermon based on a passage from II Chronicles gets the same attention as Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. For me, that’s a problem. I’m a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ. I’m not a Davidian and certainly not a Branch Davidian. Some are. I’m not. I read the entire Bible. I value the entire Bible. But I’m a Jesus guy.

Twelve Step groups  read each step at every meeting, focusing on a different step each week. When the group finishes the Twelve Steps, they start over and go through them again.

Not so in Sunday school or sermons. If we limited ourselves to a single Bible book each week, we’d need sixty-six weeks to skim through the Bible once. We’d spend only one Sunday, for example, on Matthew—to learn about …

The birth of Jesus

The visit of the Wise men

The preaching of John the Baptist

The Sermon on the Mount

The Beatitudes

The Lord’s Prayer

The healing of a leper, etc. etc. etc.

That’s an impossible task.

The Gift of Advent is that for four weeks, every year, we focus on …





Year in and year out, approaching Christmas, we are reminded that these attributes are important. No need to ignore salvation, grace, justice, or the Ten Commandments, but at least once each year we will focus on Hope, Peace, Joy and Love.

Year after year. Over and over.





Categories: Book Review, Faith/Spirituality, Holiday | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Take Care of Yourself

About twenty years ago, as our daughters were becoming adults, I began using a parting mantra that was new to me. Instead of a simple “Good-bye” or “I love you” or “Be good,” I began to say, “Take care of yourself.”

The transition was intentional. No one had explicitly taught me self-care. I wanted Jenna and Julie to know it was not only okay, but also it was important that they care for themselves.

Sunday school classes, when I was growing up, taught children to memorize short Bible verses. One of those was “Bear one another’s burdens,” found in Galatians 6: 2. The lesson is that we are to help one another in times of need. No one in my family or church showed us, much less asked us to memorize, Galatians 6: 5, which reads, “Bear your own burdens.”

The result is that a lot of good Christian folks became excellent at taking care of other people and not so good at taking care of themselves. Taking care of others was considered a virtue and looking out for yourself was somehow sinful, egotistical and wrong. So, some of us went to work when we were sick. We stifled our opinions and gave into the whims of others. We didn’t stand a chance against bullies. We served others and didn’t allow them to serve us. We were big on Duty. Sometimes we overfunctioned in our zeal to take care of others.

At some point, I realized that Jesus said we are to love others as we love ourselves (Matthew 22: 37-40), not more than, not less than. I am part of God’s creation. Why would I take care of the “you” part of creation and not the “me” part of creation?

So, I changed my thinking. That is allowed. Actually, it is required if we are to grow!

So, don’t feel the need to argue when I say, “Take care of yourself.” It’s good advice.

Categories: addiction, Diet, Faith/Spirituality, Family, Health | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Going to Church


“Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together” is the quaint King James Bible rendering of a sentiment that has always been important to me.

 Sitting in a Sunday school class recently, with a half-dozen adults and one sleepy teenager, we talked about this passage.  In a blog devoted to travel, I am making an attempt to reflect on all the places I go—whether to Peru or to my back porch.  Since I have been in the habit of “going to church” for 66 years, it seems a worthy subject for at least one blog post.

Early on, I went to church because my parents took me and no alternative existed.  A six-year old can’t stay home by himself.  Later, I went because my friends were there.  Still later, I went because it was a good habit.  Who knows when I might learn something?

 However, my experience is that in our churches we tend to teach our religious heritage and culture, not the Bible. 

I was in a class with 15 college-educated “progressive” Baptists a few years ago when the lesson was on Noah, the Ark and the Rainbow.  The class members were trying to fit all the animals of the world onto the Ark.  They had little success.  I suggested that maybe the story was about Hope and not about engineering.  They seemed relieved.  A conversation about dinosaurs might have been a real problem.

 My last fifteen years prior to retirement, I was the South Carolina “bishop” for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.  My joke was that I would preach for free, but that I earned my pay when I attended Sunday school.

  • Example:  One Sunday, in an older men’s class, one of the members was angry because some 12-year-old boy somewhere had folded the American flag the wrong way.  The gentleman had brought enough pamphlets to put in every church bulletin that week so the whole congregation would know the correct way to fold the flag.  He ranted for the first 20 minutes of the “Bible study hour” about a kid’s honest mistake.  I wonder if he might have been as passionate about anything actually in the Bible?

Still, I persevere, because the Bible is usually, sorta, more-or-less, approximately the textbook when we go to church. Who knows, we may actually read a psalm or something.  We will probably say a prayer. 

 Besides, people are there and I need them and they need me.  They even listen to my peculiar views occasionally.  Anyhow, I keep going, and I don’t think I am any worse for it.

Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Family, Quotations, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Blog at