It’s always a treat to travel into Plains, Georgia, and join the congregation at Maranatha Baptist Church, where former President Jimmy Carter still teaches Sunday School when he’s in town.
Yesterday, the Dooleys, our new neighbors, and I ventured to Plains to get up close and personal with a former president. They’d never been to his Sunday School class, and traveling to the little town in middle Georgia is a must for anyone passing through the state on a Sunday morning.
You will remember from my recent post that I am longtime admirer of the Carter family. To me, President Carter is a modern-day prophet, challenging us to never forget the importance of human rights for everyone and to remember that we are not only citizens of the United States, but citizens of the world and connected through our humanity, no matter where we were born or live our lives.
After hearing President Carter’s lesson yesterday, I leaned over to Larry and said, “He gets it. He really gets what it’s all about.”
Those who come to the service are asked to arrive early so they can go through the Secret Service check and get instructions from Miss Jan, a longtime friend of the Carter family. Miss Jan’s monologue is one of my favorite things about visiting Maranatha Baptist. Under her commanding voice (I didn’t say bark!), the visitors get to feel like kids again.
Here’s a sampling:
“You can call him President Carter, but not Mr. President, because there’s only one sitting president in the White House. You might call him Mr. Jimmy or Mr. Carter, but certainly not Jimmy, unless you really know him and he’s a close friend.”
“When he comes into the sanctuary, you are not to rise to your feet and you are not to applaud. He hates that. Got it?”
“When he comes to your section and asks you where you are from, do not repeat your state, if someone has already called it out. If you do, President Carter will make that correction, and you don’t want to be reprimanded by a former president. Now, let’s practice that!”
We got through the exercise. Miss Jan nodded. “You are my star pupils.”
Then, there’s detailed instructions about how to act in front of a former president during “picture time.” The Carters always meet their visitors on the lawn after church for those who want their photographs.
The guidelines go something like this. “You get in line, and when it is your time, you walk up and stand beside the Carters. They will be in the middle holding hands. DO NOT try to separate them. DO NOT invite them to lunch. DO NOT say something about being his fifth cousin on his father’s side twice removed. DO NOT put your arm around him. If you’re female and stand beside the president, however, he might put his arm around you!”
In other words, don’t get up there and make a fool out of yourself!
Wouldn’t you know, the man right before our turn did just that. He walked up, grabbed the president’s hand and gushed on and on about what a fine man he was and that he’d been an admirer since he was this tall to a grasshopper. The picture-taker, another member of the church, hurried him up and out of the way before the Secret Service man in the dark glasses intervened.
When it was our turn to stand with the president, we behaved ourselves like good little children going up to speak to Santa Claus. President Carter gave us that famous smile and told us to come back again. Oh! Sure enough, he put his hand around Donna for the Kodak moment.
Here we are with President Carter in our Sunday best and our best behavior.
I always look forward to seeing Rosalynn when I go to Maranatha. So I was a bit disappointed when President Carter announced that he would be on the lawn after church, but that Mrs. Carter would have leave after Sunday School.
Oh, yes, I almost forgot. We got a lesson from Miss Jan on how to pronounce the First Lady’s first name. Most people get it wrong. Does anyone know the correct pronunciation? Jan asked the visitors.
Someone said, “Roz-uh-lynn.” Miss Jan shook her head. “That’s how most people pronounce it. The correct pronunciation is ‘Rose-uh-lynn.'”
After church, we had lunch at Gladys’ Cafe in Americus, then it was back to Plains to wander Main Street and see where President Carter launched his campaign and had his headquarters.
On our way out of Plains, we passed the gatehouse to the Carter compound. No worries, my friends. We didn’t drive up and tell the Secret Service agent we were long lost relatives who wanted to come in and sit a spell with Jimmy and Rosalynn. We were still stuffed from our lunch. Plus, we remembered Miss Jan’s lesson. We were her star pupils!