Sunday with President Jimmy Carter


President Jimmy Carter and me.

There's something to be said about small southern towns. The people are friendly, gracious and helpful.  After arriving in Plains, Georgia at 6:00a.m.on May 15th, I pulled off to the side of the road to Google directions to Maranatha Baptist Church.  Out of nowhere, a car pulled up next to me, a lady rolled down her window and said, "If you are looking for the church, just follow me."  So I did.  

I pulled into the church parking lot and was assigned number 22.There I sat until it was time to lineup for the Secret Service check at 7:00 a.m.  While waiting in line, the lady who helped me find my way introduced herself as Miss Jan and gave everyone a pre-entry set of rules to follow. 

Once inside, we sat and waited. At 9:00 a.m., Miss Jan walked to the front of the church and held court. She explained how everything (and I mean everything) would work when President Carter came in to teach Sunday School. She advised how to address him, how to respond to questions, when you can and when you absolutely CANNOT  take pictures and how to answer the seemingly simple question of “where are you from?” -which turned out to be surprisingly difficult for some people.  

Miss Jan is a force to be reckoned with ... smart, warm, firm and engaging. She’s a retired teacher—she taught Amy Carter when she was little—and it shows. She had everyone enthralled and a rather intimidated. The Secret Service probably learned a few things from her.   Oh, she is hysterical, too!  She needs her own reality TV show! 

After we were given "the rules," she asked us to bow our heads for a prayer.  When she finished speaking and we raised our heads, Jimmy Carter was standing in the front of the church. 

To suddenly see the man in the flesh right before my eyes gave me a jolt. He radiated warmth and kindness. His smile lit the room, brightly.  

One of the first things he said was, “We are all equal here." He spoke about the work he does with a group he calls The Elders. This is a group of former heads of state, Presidents and Prime Ministers from around the world that no longer hold any official political office. They meet twice a year to discuss global issues and see where help is needed and where official government assistance is not being given. If the U.S. isn’t addressing a problem, for example, then they choose to go in and address it themselves, offering leadership, negotiations, aid, ideas and the power of attention that their involvement brings.  

After discussing politics, President Carter began his Sunday School teaching. His message was as loving as you’d expect ... we all hung on his every word.  When it was time for church to start, President Carter sat in the pews with the rest of the congregation.  After the service, he stayed for pictures with attendees.  

Highlights below:

 
The beginning of a glorious day in Plains, Ga.

Secret Service briefing before President Jimmy Carter's arrival.

Miss Jan going over all of the rules.

A collection bowl made by President Jimmy Carter.

You can see his initials, J.C.

President Jimmy Carter getting to know the attendees.
 
President Jimmy Carter's warm smile.
 
President Jimmy Carter begins his Sunday School lesson.
 

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Bonnie Morét is an award-winning photographer recognized by The Georgia Council of the Arts as "an exceptional representation of contemporary Georgia art work." Her photography is featured on Georgia Public Broadcast's Georgia Traveler. Her exhibitions include Fifth Annual Exposure Awards at Musee du Louvre in Paris, France, Art Takes Miami at Scope Art during Art Basel Miami, Metro Montage XIII at the Marietta/Cobb Museum of Art, World of Water at the Georgia Aquarium, Open Walls at Black Box Gallery in Portland, Oregon, Wholly Georgia: A Look at the Effects of Southern Religious Culture, sponsored by the Art History League and Georgia State University, at Mint Gallery in Atlanta, Georgia, 6x6 at the Rochester Contemporary Arts Center in Rochester, New York, @Phonography: Dialogue in the Wireless Age, at 3 Ring Circus in New Orleans, Louisiana, and About Lands and Lives of the Civil War at the 6th Cavalry Museum in Ft. Oglethorpe, Georgia. Her photography appears in Modern Luxury/The Atlantan, Jezebel Magazine, and hangs in the executive offices at the Georgia State Capitol as part of the Art of Georgia exhibit. Corporate clients include Atlanta Ballet, Atlanta History Center, Chanel Cosmetics, Christian Dior Cosmetics, Sharp Mountain Vineyards, PM Realty Group, Granite Properties, Road Atlanta, Patrón Tequila, Georgia's Own Credit Union, StubHub, CBM Records and The Washington Auto Show.