With little fanfare and no announcement, former President Jimmy Carter quietly returned to church on Sunday.
Seated in his customary front row seat with his wife, Rosalynn, at his side, the 39th president worshipped at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains for the first time since at least November, when he was hospitalized for brain surgery.
“We have a saying here at Maranatha,” said the church’s pastor, the Rev. Tony Lowden, toward the end of the sermon. “We love you, and there ain’t nothing you can do about it.”
Lowden then ordained the newest class of the church’s deacons and asked all current deacons to come to the front of the church.
Ushers quickly placed two chairs at the front of the church — reserved for the Carters.
He needed a little help getting to the seat but make no mistake — the 95-year-old Jimmy Carter is back in the public eye offering a glimpse of holiday joy in what had been a painful season for him.
On Nov. 12, Carter had surgery to relieve pressure on his brain at Emory University Hospital after it was discovered that he had a subdural hematoma, likely caused by a recent series of falls. Most notably: An October fall where he bumped his head, suffered a black eye and required 14 stitches.
After his brain surgery, he was released on Nov. 27 in time for Thanksgiving.
Just days after being released from the hospital following brain surgery, Carter was admitted to Phoebe Sumter Medical Center in Americus for treatment for a urinary tract infection.
He was released on Dec. 4.
Carter has fallen at least three times in 2019 in which he needed medical attention or required hospitalization.
In May, he fell and broke his hip while preparing to go turkey hunting on his Plains farm. In mid-October, he fell again at his home and fractured his pelvis.
Both of those required lengthy hospital stays.
He was not hospitalized for the earlier October fall and made it to Tennessee for a Habitat for Humanity event the same day.
Sunday’s Maranatha service, the last of 2019, attracted mostly members, and not the hundreds who usually attend when Carter teaches Sunday school. He has not taught Sunday school since Nov. 3, and banners atop the Maranatha website made it clear that he would not be teaching in December.
But seated at the front of the church after service was over, Carter and the former first lady did what they have been doing for 40 years — greeted Maranatha’s parishioners, smiled and posed for pictures.