Longtime pastor to Jimmy Carter dies

Dan Ariail, 75, remained at Maranatha Baptist Church Plains, Ga., after retiring in 2005.

By John Pierce

Dan Ariail, pastor emeritus of Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Ga., where thousands of visitors attend Sunday worship and Bible studies by President Jimmy Carter each year, died Nov. 25 in hospice care in Albany. He was 75.

“Dr. Dan Ariail was a personal friend and a wonderful pastor of Maranatha Baptist Church for 23 years.” President Carter told Baptists Today news journal. “After ‘retirement,’ he remained a valued member of our congregation and set a perfect example of how a former pastor could work in complete harmony with his younger successor.”

A native of Chattanooga, Tenn., Ariail was a graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He served as pastors of churches in Georgia and Kentucky, and as associate pastor of the First Baptist churches of Macon and Perry, Ga., before accepting the pastorate in Plains.

Ariail’s 1996 book, The Carpenter’s Apprentice, written with Cheryl Heckler-Feltz, was a personal, spiritual biography of Carter, whose church commitments have included teaching Sunday school throughout his adult life.

“As you can imagine everyone is so sad about Brother Dan’s passing,” said Sybil Carter, chair of the deacons at Maranatha Baptist Church. “He was like a father to us all.”

Ariail and his wife, Nelle, remained in the church and the tight-knit Plains community after retirement in 2005. Even though he passed off the weekly preaching tasks and other ministerial duties at retirement, his continued pastoral presence and contributions to the congregation were greatly appreciated, church members said.

“An accomplished musician, Brother Dan composed many original tunes and their lyrics that were both delightful and inspirational,” said President Carter. “His legacy in our church will last for generations.”

The funeral is set for 11 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 27, at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains.