It’s an exceptional devotion for anyone: teaching Sunday school since age 18.
When a former President does it, especially three days after treatment for brain cancer, the routine becomes extraordinary.
A world will be listening with the worshipers to what former President Jimmy Carter will say about the mysteries of faith as his own life hangs in the balance in his public battle with cancer at age 90.
Carter’s Bible talks this weekend will surely draw a bigger audience than usual in his hometown of Plains, where he lives with his wife of 69 years, Rosalynn.
Even before Carter announced Thursday that his brain has four spots of advanced melanoma, his classes on the holy book have often drawn so many visitors that Plains, population 650, swells to 800 people.
Radiation treatment, then back to church
The weekend’s audiences will surely be listening for a lifetime of meaning from Carter, now that he began cancer treatment with radiation to his brain on Thursday.
“I plan to teach Sunday school this Sunday and every Sunday, as long as I’m — you know — physically and mentally able, in my little church,” Carter said Thursday during his cancer announcement.
“And we have hundreds of visitors who come to see the curiosity of a politician teaching the Bible,” he said, being interrupted by laughter at the press conference, “so I continue that.”
In the White House, Carter even found time to teach Sunday school on 14 occasions. As a governing president, he upheld the separation of church and state, but Carter has noted that “I tried to put into my services as president the teachings of Christ.”
Also a birthday celebration for first lady
In the past 20 years, Carter has been holding his Sunday school in Maranatha Baptist Church, whose 300-seat sanctuary is expected to be overflowing with visitors, journalists, and Carter’s family, including his children and grandchildren.
Sunday’s event will also celebrate former first lady Rosalynn Carter’s 88th birthday, which was on August 18.
One Carter grandson, Jason Carter, a former Georgia state senator, has already declared the Sunday celebration as “oversubscribed.”
Carter’s fight against cancer also involves his liver, where doctors have already removed 85 cubic centimeters of his liver, roughly 10% of the organ, he said at the Carter Center.
That surgery led doctors to the “four spots of melanoma” on his brain, about 2 millimeters each. In addition to Thursday’s radiation treatment, Carter will receive four treatments of the drug pembrolizumab at three-week intervals, the Carter Center said. There could be other radiation treatments, but none are now scheduled.
A one-man attraction
In a farming town that takes its name from the Bible’s “The Plains of Dura,” the 39th President has been attending Maranatha ever since he left the Oval Office in 1981.
He began teaching Sunday school there several years later and has delivered well more than 600 lessons at the church, members said.
No reservations are accepted for Carter’s Sunday school, but the church has an overflow room in its fellowship hall where a 36-inch TV set captures Carter’s class in the sanctuary.
Busloads of tourists regularly make the pilgrimage to hear Carter talk about Scripture. The seven-room Plains Historic Inn is booked months in advance, and its country diner bustles, tourism officials said.
The former leader of the free world amounts to an international attraction for the small town.
Carter and his wife even allow visitors to later take a picture with them, but only after both Sunday school and worship are completed, the church said. The U.S. Secret Service provides security for the couple, and all visitors are subject to a search.
School to focus on two Scriptures
On Sunday, Carter’s teaching will focus on two passages of the Bible.
One scripture is Acts 15:36-41 (King James version), which speaks of Paul and Barnabas, after teaching the word of God, proposing that they “visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord and see how they do.”
The other verses are from 1 Samuel 26:17-25 (KJV), which speaks of David being presented with a second chance to kill Saul, but he declines.
Saul had previously told his son and “attendants” to kill David, so he and Abishai ostensibly have every reason to kill Saul when they find him sleeping in a ditch with a spear.
Abishai really wants to kill Saul, but David tells him, “The Lord forbid that I should stretch forth mine hand against the Lord’s anointed.”
Saul is really grateful and promises, “I will no more do thee harm, because my soul was precious in thine eyes this day.”