"This week has been a trying week for our church. We have one of our favorite members in the hospital," said Rev. Tony Lowden, the pastor at Maranatha Baptist Church, Carter's church in Plains, a community of fewer than a thousand people about 160 miles south of Atlanta.
Carter is recovering at Emory University Hospital following surgery Tuesday morning to relieve pressure on his brain from a subdural hematoma, the Carter Center said. The 95-year-old will remain in the hospital as long as advisable for observation, the center said.
About 50 people sat in the pews during a previously scheduled Thanksgiving service Tuesday night listening to Lowden preach about relying on the Lord's mercy during difficult times. He asked for prayers for Plains and for the Carters.
"I don't know about you but he's made such an impact in my life and millions of others by putting Christ on display, by showing the Christ in him outside the walls of the church," Lowden said preaching from verses in Psalm 136 in a sermon entitled, "Lord, have mercy."
Lowden said he struggled "knowing that a person that I loved," was in the hospital. The nation's 39th president was admitted to Emory University Hospital on Monday night ahead of his procedure.
In an interview before the service, Lowden said he spoke to the Carter's wife of 73 years, Rosalynn, on Tuesday. They talked about Psalm 23, which says "The Lord is my shepherd."
"I told her to tell that old sailor don't get discouraged up there at the hospital and follow directions, and he'll be OK because he wants to come home," Lowden said of Carter, the son of a peanut farmer who entered the US Naval Academy during World War II.
Everyone is worried about Carter and his wife, Lowden said. "They are worried about his legacy because he is their voice, especially for those that are struggling," Lowden said.
Carter, who regularly teaches Sunday school at the church spoke about accepting death during a service earlier this month. He said he was "was absolutely and completely at ease with death," after doctors told him in 2015 that his cancer had spread to his brain.
Carter announced he beat cancer in December 2015 after getting experimental treatment for liver cancer that metastasized to his brain. During a news conference at the time, Carter said his fate was "in the hands of God." He vowed to continue teaching Sunday school at his church "as long as I'm physically able."
When Carter celebrated his 95th birthday on October 1, he became the oldest living former US president, a title once held by the late George H. W. Bush, who died in late 2018 at age 94.
Lowden on Tuesday praised Carter, who was born in Plains, for his faith through his long life.
"I can honestly say, I don't have an ounce of what Jimmy Carter has when it comes to knowing that I can go through everything, and say, 'Lord have mercy,'" Lowden said.
"From Depression to segregation, he still was able to say, 'Lord have mercy,'" the pastor said. "To being fed by maids and butlers, to coming back to Plains and feeding those on the other side of the railroad tracks, he's still able to say 'Lord, have mercy.'"