The folks who live in tiny Plains, Ga. won’t mind if you think their town is nuts. As a matter of fact they’ll encourage the notion since Plains sits in the middle of the country’s “peanut growing belt” and is also the hometown of the world’s most famous peanut farmer of all time: former President Jimmy Carter.

The entwined legacies of the humble goober and our 30th leader are both celebrated in Plains where on the same short stretch of Main Street you’ll find Plain Peanuts where you can buy peanut everything (and have a free sample of yummy homemade peanut butter ice cream) and the Plains Historic Inn where the rooms are decorated with memorabilia from different eras ranging from the 1920s to the 1980s and where Carter-related items are found throughout the building. A block away is the Plains High School Museum and Visitor Center; this National Historic Site was formerly the Plains High School that President Carter graduated from, as did former First Lady Rosalynn Carter.

The Carters still live in Plains so when the pair are not off building houses with Habitat For Humanity or Jimmy is not globetrotting on a diplomatic mission it’s not unusual to see either of them out and about. And there’s a way to make sure that you’ll get to see and meet the Carters – head to Sunday school!

The Carters attend services at the Maranatha Baptist Church when they are in Plains and Jimmy teaches Sunday school there a handful of times throughout the year. All are welcome, at least up to the capacity that the small church holds, and those who come for the service will generally be able to get their picture taken with the Carters.

Here’s how it works: Firstly, to be guaranteed entry, arrive early to get in line, 9 a.m. is good. You will have to go through a security check conducted by Secret Service agents so leave all unnecessary items in your car but do take your camera. About a half hour before Carter comes out, the congregation is briefed on how things will proceed and what you can and cannot do; the session is conducted by a woman who has a delivery comparable to a stand-up comedian and she makes it very entertaining to find out when you can use your camera and tidbits like the fact that you will not at any point stand or clap for Carter.

Sunday school begins with Carter spending a few minutes telling what he’s been up to in the recent past and asking a few members of the congregation where they are from (this is the only time you can take pictures inside.) After he gives his lesson, Carter will leave for a brief period and then return with Rosalynn for the church service that’ll last about an hour.

Afterwards is when you can get your picture taken with the couple, and to keep this from getting out of hand there’s a set procedure on how this works too. The Carters stand holding hands under a tree, amiably posing until all who want a photo are accommodated. The Secret Service manages the line; when you get to the head of the line you hand your camera to one of the agents and then you go stand by the couple and you can choose to stand next to either one of them.

This is not a time for conversation and there’s definitely no touching or hand shaking; the agent snaps the photo, you collect your camera from another agent waiting to hand it back to you and then basically you are shooed out of the way. This might sound a little cold but it is actually quite thrilling, and it is understandable that the Carters can’t stand around and chew the fat. Since Jimmy and Rosalynn are both octogenarians it is a wonder that they offer this rare opportunity to the public at all.

The man that locals refer to as “Mr. Jimmy” will be teaching Sunday school on Sept. 11, 18 and 25, and if you visit Plains on Sept. 24 you can also enjoy this year’s Plains Peanut Festival.

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