Couple creates a way to make all feel included


For several years, Mary Lull sat quietly in her sister's Sunday school class while teachers relayed their lessons to the class of adults.

But now Ms. Lull, 60, who is severely developmentally disabled, finally has a class of her own. She and other handicapped parishioners receive the attention they need during special education Sunday school classes at Galilee Lutheran Church on Mountain Road.

"I think it's been good for both of us," said Pat Schmitt, a sister who cares for Ms. Lull. "I appreciate it because I can go to Sunday school. I'm sure she likes to have something that's hers."

Galilee's special education class is taught by a husband and wife who have lived in Pasadena since 1992, but only joined the church last December. Before that, the couple lived in southwest Baltimore and attended a Lutheran church there.

Alberta and Homer Ash said they started the classes just after Easter this year because they saw children and adults with special needs slip through the cracks at most churches.

"It seemed like these special kids are just shoved to the background," said Mr. Ash, 55. "They're not dumb. I just think they're looking for the opportunity to do something.

"They should have their own Bible study," he said.

After recognizing the need for a class that catered to the disabled students at Galilee, Mr. Ash said he consulted with the pastor, the Rev. Thomas Clocker, and soon began developing a curriculum for it.

The Ashes purchased Bible story books and crafts materials.

The result is a ministry in the church that has had a positive affect on the entire congregation of about 600, Mr. Clocker said.

"It helps promote the congregation's spirit of inclusiveness. They can see that although there's diversity in the body of Christ, we're still all one faith," he said.

The 45-minute classes begin at 9:15 a.m. with a Bible story, read by Mr. Ash or one of the students.

After the reading, Mrs. Ash reinforces the story line by showing what happened, using characters cut from construction paper and other materials.

During the last portion of class, the students work on their own craft projects, which are usually related to the day's lesson.

They like to work with their hands, and it's good because it reinforces the story we've been talking about," said Mrs. Ash, 68.

They've never had more than three students attending any single class, Mrs. Ash said, but five women have participated since the spring with some consistency.

As first-time teachers of disabled students, leading the class is a challenge, Mrs. Ash said.

"They're challenging because I never know what I'm going to get into," she said. "You have to specialize with each individual."

But Mr. Ash said the challenge is worthwhile if the students feel included in the church.

"I'm trying to show them that they can come to Sunday school, that they can participate in church activities," he said. "There is the opportunity."

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