DECATUR – Bob Paslay wanted to lose some weight. He had tried various options, including joining a gym, but found they didn't work for him. “You have to have a membership,” he said. “And I can't keep putting money into it.”
When his church offered a weekly yoga class, he felt the atmosphere was better for him. “I got into it with these people to lose weight,” he said.
Paslay, 56, found the support he received was just as important to his health as getting him to exercise. Members of his church, Mount Zion Presbyterian Church, had tried yoga in the past. They knew it was a comfortable setting. “The group is a little more forgiving when mistakes happen or adjustments need to be made,” said Molly Tinuto, director of children and adult ministries. “Everybody is forgiving and it provides some laughter.”
Churches have proven to be an alternative to typical workout facilities. The cost is often more affordable or, depending on the class or exercise, free. Many of the classes offered require a short time commitment. “And it is a more comfortable,” Tinuto said.
For some, a church may feel intimidating. This is why certified Zumba instructor, Barbara Hodges, doesn't talk about church during her class. She and her daughter, Stephanie Peoples, conduct the classes in the large fellowship hall of the Prairie Avenue Christian Church. “Some go to church elsewhere,” Hodges said. “We aren't trying to take them away from their church. Our mission is to keep people fit.”
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T.J. Hahn, Pastor for Riverside Baptist Church, has found this method works well. His church offers an open gym for anyone wanting to play a game of basketball. “A lot are from outside of the church,” he said.
The church uses the opportunity to mentor kids in the schools as well. “It's a connection and a relationship,” Hahn said. “We just have to be a presence.”
Approximately 20 high school students have been attending the weekly games. The pastor sees relationships being formed. “I'd like to see the bridge between the courts to the pews,” he said. “But they are coming to play basketball. If there's a need, they will come.”
Many churches have large facilities or attached buildings allowing for groups to play. “God has blessed us with a big gym,” said Alyssa Merrit, Tabernacle Baptist Church's Upward Cheerleading and Basketball director. “And they are there almost every night.”
The Upward Sports is a program offered to children in kindergarten through sixth grade. The church created the project because they felt the age group was being missed. Since 2008, several coaches from other churches have contributed to the program. In turn, the entire family reaps the reward. “The mission for many churches is to partner with the community,” said Merrit. “This gives them opportunities to do something good.”
Although time restraints can alter the size of classes, some have found the atmosphere more intimate. This also opens up the class to others in the community, not just church members. “It is open to anyone who would like to try it,” Hodges said. “We believe in having fun while you exercise.”