Janet Chisom, associate pastor of Salem Presbyterian Church, never thought she would get an opportunity to preach at a Southern Baptist congregation with a former President in attendance. Traveling to Plains, Georgia, to do so never crossed her mind.
Chisom, who was four when Jimmy Carter was sworn in as President in 1977, grew up hearing stories about his presidency. “This was not a political pilgrimage for me. I have known more about his work for peace and justice post-presidency and have been impressed with how his faith has informed all aspects of his life,” she said.
On March 3, Chisom attended President Carter’s Sunday School class at Maranatha Baptist Church (MBC) in Georgia with her friend Tiffany Rawling.
“We arrived at the church before dawn with many others, hoping we were early enough to get a seat in the sanctuary. While we were waiting, we visited with people in the parking lot,” Chisom said. “One of the people was Mayor Boze Godwin, who is a member of MBC and one of the parking attendants. After striking up a conversation, Godwin ushered us through Secret Service screening. A weekly later, I received an invitation to preach at MBC on March 31.”
Chisom prepared for Maranatha Baptist Church the same way she always prepares to preach: with study, prayer, reflection, writing and revising.
When asked if she was nervous about preaching at the Southern Baptist congregation, Chisom responded, “Of course I was. I have to battle my nerves every Sunday, no matter where I am. I control them by keeping busy, reading through the sermon and connecting with people. At MBC, I had a few moments of nervousness in the parking lot before I went into the church. But, as soon as I got my bearings in the sanctuary and connected with the people, I was okay.”
Things Chisom discussed with President Carter were whether or not she should wear a robe when preaching and the teaching abilities of his niece who taught a class that morning.
Having an opportunity to meet President Carter and speak at his church is a memory that Chisom will cherish for the rest of her life.
“I noticed that he was kind, interested in people, attentive and generous with his time. He signed autographs and posed for pictures after class and after worship. He even took notes,” she said. “He leaned in to speak with children. He was a normal part of that congregation and was at Sunday School and the worship service at MBC to learn and to worship, just as others were.”