Selfie school? Paula Deen goes to Jimmy Carter’s Sunday school

PLAINS — The mayor wanted in.

So did a father and son from Florida, a couple of seen-it-all members of Jimmy Carter’s church and enough other starstruck fans that the Secret Service had to step in at one point and impose a little order.

The setting: Maranatha Baptist Church late Sunday morning. The situation: People wanting to meet or get their pictures made with Paula Deen.

“We came for President Carter’s Sunday School class,” said Christian Griffin of Madison, Fla., who was visiting with his father. “We got lucky.”

If you asked Deen, she was the lucky one. The famed restauranteur and TV chef had co-headlined a fundraiser, “Painting, Paula and a President,” with her longtime friend Carter here on Saturday. During an interview, she’d mentioned how much she was looking forward to attending the former president’s Sunday school class for the first time ever.

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Sunday’s class lasted about 45 minutes, with Deen (whose career and image took some very public hits awhile back) nodding along especially vigorously when Carter reminded the class, “We’re not perfect, we’re going to make mistakes. But at the same time … we realize that God loves us and is a forgiving God.”

Afterwards, the always loquacious Deen was almost at a loss for words. Almost.“It was everything and more,” she repeated several times. “The way this whole church just opens up their arms to you…I would recommend everyone do it.”

Not everyone comes with their own selfie line, though. Deen had arrived at Maranatha around 9:30 a.m., accompanied by some friends and her aunt and cousin from nearby Albany, where she grew up. When Carter started teaching about half an hour later, he publicly welcomed Georgia congressman Sanford Bishop (D-Albany) and his wife, who were seated with Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), one row behind Deen.

“And Paula Deen is here, the most famous Georgian there is, I guess,” Carter chuckled.

Not quite. Not with a former president and Nobel Peace Prize winner from Plains posing for photos along with his wife, Rosalynn, after the 11 a.m. worship service. As usual, nearly every visitor (about 300 this week), queued up in orderly, if slightly nervous fashion for their photos with the Carters on one side of the church. But something slightly different occurred this week. While waiting to get in that line, many made a beeline to where Deen was on the other side of the church to ask to snap a selfie with her. She unfailingly obliged, although when one woman tried to do the reverse — first getting her photo taken with the Carters and then trying to circle back to Deen instead of leaving the church as required — a Secret Service agent politely stepped in and stopped her.

Even Boze Godwin, Plains’s longtime mayor and the Maranatha member who works the videotape camera during “Mr. Jimmy’s” Sunday School classes, made a point of seeking out Deen afterwards and welcoming her.

“Tell me,” Deen leaned in and asked hizzoner in a conspiratorial tone, “Do you ever, ever have any trouble here in this wonderful little town? Who with, outsiders?”

Said Godwin a little later, after posing for a photo with Deen: “She’s a character.”

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