Helen Parrish founded the Sunshine Class at Clanton First United Methodist Church, and Linda Moore has carried on the tradition despite a decrease in the number of participants.

By Emily Beckett

Linda Moore knows where she will be every Sunday morning at 9:30, even if she is one of only two people there.

With her tote bag full of books and supplies, Moore plants herself in a small classroom on the ground floor of Clanton First United Methodist Church and waits for a man named Robert Weaver to join her.

She opens her Bible to the day’s passage, arranges a set of workbooks on the table, opens a three-paneled presentation board with cutouts of biblical characters and pulls several cans of crayons from a bookshelf.

She is ready to teach her Sunday School class as soon as Weaver, her only student, arrives.

“God said, ‘When there’s two, I’ll be with them,’” Moore said, looking at a roll sheet with no more than 10 names listed.

Moore is referring to scripture from Matthew 18:20, which says, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

She teaches CFUMC’s Sunshine Class, a class for adults with special needs.

The late Helen Parrish, an influential member and leader at CFUMC, formed the class years ago and taught her growing group of special-needs students in the same classroom.

When Moore learned about 12 years ago of the opportunities Parrish’s class offered to people with special needs, she decided to transfer churches and enroll her son, Yancey, in the class.

Eventually, Moore started substitute teaching occasionally for Parrish. When Parrish became ill, she asked Moore to teach the class full-time.

“She got sick six years ago,” Moore said of Parrish. “She called me and said, ‘Nobody is there to be with my children today. Would you teach the class?’”

Moore accepted the role without hesitation.

“When [Parrish] passed away, I said, ‘There’s no way I’m going to let this class go by the wayside (and) let them be forgotten.’”

Moore is able to give Weaver, right, her undivided attention since he is currently her only student in the Sunshine Class.

Although Moore’s group has shrunk to just one student in the past month, she continues to teach the class in hopes that some of her students who moved away will return to Chilton County someday.

“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed doing this,” Moore said. “I would hate for it to completely fade out. I look forward to coming.”

Moore and Weaver’s sister, Susan Guzman, can see that Weaver benefits from the class as well.

“It’s just enriched his Christian experience,” Guzman says. “He loves going to church, and [Moore] takes time with him. The Sunshine Class is why we started going to that church.”

Along with her biblical knowledge, experience with special-needs people is something Moore has in spades.

She has taught people with autism, mental retardation and other disabilities, and her son was a member of the class until he passed away last year at the age of 32.

Like Weaver, Yancey participated in Moore’s lessons and read the Bible with her at church and at home on a regular basis.

“I let them get involved just as much as they can,” Moore said. “They’re like any other child; they want to come to church. They understand the love of Jesus.”

Weaver says the Lord’s Prayer with Moore and tithes to the church every Sunday.

“We only ask for $1 in here,” Moore said. “They need to realize what the offering is for. We try to involve them just as much as any other Sunday School class.”

Moore’s class also allows her students’ caregivers to attend a different class or worship service at the same time.

“I know how it feels to be able to give someone that chance,” Moore said. “It’s really good for parents to feel relaxed and go to classes they want to go to.”

Weaver, 55, lives with Guzman near Montevallo and has been a member of the class for almost a year now.

“It is definitely worth the drive,” Guzman said. “Linda is phenomenal. She’s caring and devoted, and [Robert] gets a lot of one-on-one (time) that he really needs. It’s just meant the world to us.”

An artificial Christmas tree sits in a corner of the classroom, with pictures of Parrish and all of hers and Moore’s former students hanging from the branches.

Each picture represents a life Moore has touched. Each one reminds her of why she comes back to the same room at CFUMC every week and tries to deliver messages of God’s love and salvation in ways that might bypass a complicated mind and go straight to the heart.

“They’re the best class you could teach because they’re interested when they come in,” Moore said. “They’re ready to be taught. They’re ready to listen. They teach me so much.”

For more information about the Sunshine Class, call Clanton First United Methodist Church at (205) 755-0490.