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Homebound Sunday school class meets via telephone conference call

ANNISTON, Ala. (BP)–Jake Mathews, an attorney in Anniston, Ala., sits at his usual desk in an upper floor office at Parker Memorial Baptist Church.
No, he’s not at his place of business — he’s preparing to greet the members of his special Sunday school class.
For more than 20 years Parker Memorial’s homebound members have joined together every Sunday morning via a telephone conference class.
The phone on Mathew’s desk rings, signaling that the operator has completed the connections.
“Good morning!” the operator’s cheery voice booms from the desktop speaker. “You have 16 members present,” the operator says.
She lists the names of those who are on the line and awaiting their Sunday school lesson.
Additionally, she names those who did not answer or have told her that they were not feeling up to “attending.”
As the operator departs, Mathews directs his voice toward the speaker. “Good morning, all!” he greets his class.
A chorus of “Good mornings!” echoes from the speaker. “Hope everyone’s ready for our lesson today. Let’s begin with a word of prayer,” he says.
“Are there any prayer requests?”
“I’d like you to pray for me,” one member’s voice sounds from the speaker. “I haven’t been feeling too well this week.”
“We sure will, Mrs. Drummond,” Mathews assures her.
“And I’d like you to remember a friend of mind,” another voice shares.
When all the prayer requests have been stated, Mathews leads the class in prayer and his “amen” is repeated by the other members.
“Now, let’s open our Bibles to Psalm 1.” As the Sunday school lesson proceeds, class members are able to interact and share their own comments and insights.
Mathews brings the lesson to an end, reminding the class members, “When you’re lonely, when you have no human companionship, remember — you are never really alone.”
There is a closing prayer, and then, just like the on-campus classes at the church, the telephone class takes their time bidding their teacher and each other farewell.
“Great lesson.”
The smile on Mathews’ face makes it clear he enjoys his ministry as part of the telephone class.
“We even have visitors sometimes,” Mathews said. “Some of the members live in nursing homes and invite others into their rooms to hear the lessons.
“In that type of setting our class can really be a great outreach tool,” he said.
About 20 years ago David Coffey and Larry Wimberly, who were serving as minister of education and pastor, respectively, at Parker Memorial, came up with the idea for the class.
Homebound members were then contacted and offered an opportunity to participate.
Special speakers that could simply be plugged into the place of a normal telephone’s receiver were delivered to each homebound member’s residence, and soon the class was up and running.
Coffey was the class’s first teacher.
He set up the conference calling line and put a speaker phone in his office. Then each Sunday, as it was time for Sunday school to begin, the operator would ring each class member and then Coffey’s office line, connecting all the answered lines together.
The class is still handled the same way today.
Another Parker Memorial Baptist member, Bill Owsley, also served as teacher of the telephone class during its early days. “I had to learn on the job,” Owsley said. “It was kind of like being on radio. But I led the class for five years and got to really know everybody.
“Through class and personal visits, we built relationships, became friends,” he said. “A lot of the members would often call me at home just to talk.”
Mathews, who took over the class this church year, said he’s still learning. “A lot of homebound people who hear of our class want to get involved,” he said, adding, “Some of our regulars aren’t members of the church.”
The class always recognizes birthdays and other special occasions and makes every effort to make the members feel as much a part of the “regular” church congregation as possible.
Mathews also devotes some of his time to a local jail ministry. So between that and the telephone class, it’s tough to cover all the bases, he said.
“I haven’t been able to get around to making all the personal visits I’d like to,” he said, noting his need for help with outreach.
“We have several more people interested in joining now,” he said. “It’s just a matter of getting the [telephone] speaker to them and adding their names to the operator’s call list.”

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  • Judy Woodward Bates