Pastors often call their church members “saints” when they pass from this life, but that’s no exaggeration for one of the most famous Baptist laywomen of our generation, says a former pastor to Rosalynn Carter.
Brandon Patterson is one of a series of pastors to know Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter as faithful members of his flock at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Ga. He is effusive in his praise of Rosalynn, who died Nov. 19 and who will lie in state at the Carter Presidential Center today before a private funeral and burial on Wednesday.
“If there’s one person in the history of Christianity who should be a saint, it’s Mrs. Carter.”
“If there’s one person in the history of Christianity who should be a saint, it’s Mrs. Carter,” he said. “She was about as perfect as perfect could be. She was always sweet. She was always humble. President Carter had the aura of a president, like when he walked into the room or when you met him, you knew he was someone who was recognized and important, just because of who he was. But if you met Mrs. Carter, you would think you’re meeting someone like your mother or your grandmother or your sister. She was just so humble and down to earth and there are not enough accolades to describe how wonderful she was.”
Patterson, a graduate of McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University, served the small rural Georgia church from 2017 to 2019.
Getting to know Rosalynn Carter and watch her faith in action at the church is something he’ll never forget.
“Her passions in the church were the same as her passion everywhere. She wanted to simply help people. If she saw someone in need, then she wanted to give of herself to help them. And so, one of the big areas she was involved with at the church was the food ministry for the local community. People who did not have enough resources to care for themselves and their family. She was the No. 1 supporter behind it. Not only did she provide food, but she was the first one there getting the actual food to the people, by going door to door to pass it out to anyone who needed it. She wanted to make sure people inside and outside of the church got what they needed.”
Although Patterson has numerous similar stories he could tell of Carter’s servant spirit, one that stands out in his mind.
“We were having an evening service, and we would usually walk through the side door, for the people who were long-time members. I can remember the side-door pathway was a little dirty that day, and what happened next is something that I can still remember to this day. Mrs. Carter asked if I knew where the broom was and, not even thinking about it, I asked her if I could help her with anything, and she politely said no. She was probably 90 at this time. She gets the broom, goes outside by herself, sweeps up that entire sidewalk or a path entranceway into the church.
“There were two reasons why I believed she did this,” he continued. “One is she loved Jesus, she had this deep heart for Jesus, and she wanted his home to be clean. Second, it’s her humility. She wasn’t going to ask me to do it. She wasn’t going to ask anyone else to do it. She was going to be the one to do it. She was not above sweeping.”
In every way, Carter was a leader, he said. “Every single person who’s ever met her would call her a leader. And she was the type of leader who by just knowing her made you want to be better. She obviously led by example, but it wasn’t just that. At her core, she was so wonderful, so selfless, so kind, that it made you want to be better yourself. Just by being around her, you wanted to become a little more like her.”
Their former pastor also observed the legendary love Jimmy and Rosalynn had for each other. They were inseparable, he said.
“I can remember when Mrs. Carter got sick and had to be hospitalized. We were all worried that her time was coming to an end. President Carter was scheduled to teach Sunday school the following day. If he had a responsibility, he did it. He was a man of his word. President Carter was at Atlanta Hospital all night with her. He did not sleep at all. He came back to Plains just to teach Sunday school.
“The second he walks into the room, he apologizes and says, ‘Guys, I’m sorry. I’m tired today. I will be teaching; I just need you to know I’m tired. Ms. Rosalynn got sick last night, and I spent all night on my knees praying. I’ve never prayed more in my life than I have tonight.”
It is well known that Jimmy Carter is big on praying. He used to say he prayed more when he was in the White House than ever before, because he trusted God would help him in that time. “But he loved Mrs. Rosalynn so much that he was heartbroken and scared and devastated when he thought he was going to lose her,” Patterson said. “I mean, it was a union that can only be talked about in fairytales. It was special.”
When Patterson left Plains to accept a new ministry role in North Carolina, the Carters asked to come by to see him one last time.
“They walked into my house, and she was just so kind and said, ‘Brandon, we’ve loved you. Thank you for everything you’ve done.’ And she also was very apologetic, wishing she could have done more for me. But that’s just who she is. She would always want to do more for someone. And so that was our last conversation face to face. She sent me a couple of emails catching up on my life. I always got cards from her and President Carter, any special event like holidays and birthdays.”
When Jimmy Carter was regularly teaching his Sunday school class, sometimes 500 people would show up on Sunday mornings and form a line waiting to get a seat in the small sanctuary. After class, anyone who wanted to take a photo with the Carters was given that opportunity.
Upon news of her death, social media was flooded with people posting their photos posing with the Carters at Maranatha Baptist Church. Patterson said he never heard Rosalynn Carter complain about staying for the long photo sessions.
“She never complained about anything,” he said. “Did she enjoy the pictures after church? I honestly think she did. I think both President Carter and Ms. Rosalynn did because they loved people and they knew people cared about that. And so, they loved being able to give that back to people.”