The Christian Science Monitor

In Plains, Ga., an evangelical politician like no other

It’s the morning after his and Rosalynn’s 72nd wedding anniversary, and former President Jimmy Carter is walking slowly into the crowded sanctuary at Maranatha Baptist, his hometown congregation here in rural Plains for the past 40 years.

He stops to peer over the people sitting together closely in the sanctuary’s pews. “Are there any visitors here today?” he asks, his lips pursed with just the slightest of grins. The congregation laughs, knowing that when he’s not teaching his Sunday school class, only 25 to 30 of his neighbors join him at Maranatha’s Sunday service.

There are more than 10 times that number here today – self-described pilgrims, long-time admirers, and journalists. At 93, the nation’s 39th president has been giving such lessons here since 1981, about 40 Sundays every year since the time he left office. He’s slowed down since surviving brain cancer three years ago, and President Carter has only three more classes scheduled the rest of this year. 

As he walks around the room, asking folks where they’re from, Bertice Berry is grinning, too. She’d driven down from Savannah this morning, taking extra time to wind through the back roads driving west with her daughter Fatima and “white sister” Brynn Grant. They wanted to see their home state’s country sights, they say.

“I just

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