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!