Easter Sunday in Plains will look much the same for the small congregation at Maranatha Baptist Church.
There will be singing and scripture reading, freshly pressed shirts and possibly even spit-shined shoes, but the day will be marked without the rural South Georgia town’s favorite son. It will be former President Jimmy Carter’s first Easter since he entered hospice care earlier this year.
Maranatha Baptist, where Carter taught Sunday school for many years, will join worshippers and pastors from several denominations in Plains to begin their Easter celebrations at sunrise on the brick steps of Plains Baptist Church. The service is an annual tradition attended by generations of families over the years, including the Carters.
“Carter never missed an Easter sunrise service in Plains unless he was in Washington, overseas, or since his health got bad,” said Jan Williams, who has lived in the area for more than 50 years and plays piano at Maranatha.
The 98-year-old peanut farmer-turned politician will celebrate this year from home, where he has decided to spend his remaining time with his family.
Williams expects at least 50 of Plains’ 575 residents will attend the 7:30 a.m. service. She said members of the town’s Methodist, Lutheran and two Baptist churches will participate in some way.
Unlike a typical service, churchgoers will sometimes bring blankets and cushions because the bricks outside usually get quite cool, Williams added.
The program will include singing, praying, scripture reading, and a short sermon by Plains Baptist pastor Buck Kinney. A special offering will be taken for people who come into town in need of help, whether it be gas or something to eat.
At 10 a.m., Carter’s niece Kim Fuller will teach his Sunday school class at Maranatha Baptist, where Carter has not attended in person since before the coronavirus pandemic. At 11 a.m., a worship service consisting of singing and prayer will be conducted by a visiting preacher.
Williams said Plains’ downtown area will usually be filled with crosses instead of Easter bunnies, though its churches will typically host Easter egg hunts.
“We are proud of what we do,” said Williams. “Especially with meeting together and celebrating Easter.”