Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A New Take on Fitness: The Gathering Place

"The Gathering Place @ Community Church Greenwood," the workshop information said.

The address was Main Street and as it was in a suburb south of Indianapolis, I wasn't sure what to expect when I was making the drive for Silver Sneakers training. A community hall next to a church? A church basement? After all, I used to go to Weight Watchers meetings in a church basement and it's where I now vote. The church where Mark and I (sometimes) attend used to offer Silver Sneakers – maybe it would be in a multi-purpose room just steps from the sanctuary.

As I made the turn onto Main Street, a wide road that appeared anything but small town, I knew that any preconceived notion I had was wrong. I just didn't understand how wrong until I made the turn into a large parking lot.

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The Gathering Place, as it turns out, is not a rinky-dink community center but a full-fledged, expansive gym that is affiliated with the church next door. The church's mission, workshop attendees would learn, includes living "in unity, intentionally caring for one another's physical, spiritual, material and emotional well-being." The Gathering Place is a reflection of that mission, offering members and the community a place to further the physical care. They want people to lead a "totally fit life" so that they "can live on earth as long as God intended."

This concept, being healthy as a way of respecting God and his creation, is not new to me. Many churches have outreach programs to improve the health of its members and there are a number of books, such as "The Daniel Plan," that bridge fitness, health and diet with God and religion.

But I have never seen it done in the way that The Gathering Place is. An indoor soccer field and basketball courts provide a venue for league sports. There are traditional gym facilities, such as a weight room and an area with cardio equipment, and an expansive group fitness schedule.

And it was there, in that schedule, that The Gathering Place intrigued me more. It was packed, with early morning offerings, mid-morning senior classes and evening sessions that go till 9:30. I have yet to see a gym around me offer a 9 p.m. fitness class, much less a facility associated with the church. The classes included everything from what I'd expect – kickboxing and Zumba, Silver Sneakers and cycling. But they also had a number of Les Mills programs: BodyPump, BodyVive, BodyAttack and CXWorx.

As I eyed the schedule, one thought bubbled to the surface: how can a gym like this afford the licensing fees for these classes? Though there are deals and multiple-program discounts, the Gathering Place could easily be paying upwards of $750 a month in licensing fees.

I got a clue when I passed a representative of the Gathering Place, who was chatting with a fellow attendee, on the way to the bathroom. The instructors, all of them, are volunteers. In fact, many of the people who help operate the facility are volunteers save for a handful of administrators and referees. To say I was dumbfounded was putting it lightly.

Don't get me wrong – I don't teach group fitness for the money. The hourly rate is respectable but at four hours a week, it doesn't add up to much. I am an instructor because I love exercise, and I am at the Y because I believe in its mission and, let's be honest, I get a great deal on a family membership. Teaching opens up many opportunities for me.

But I am not sure I would do it for free. I have to pay for music, clothing and other gear. I have to take and pay for continuing education to maintain my certification. Les Mills instructors have to pay for quarterly releases to maintain certification, each of which cost $39.95. It's close to $160 a year for just one format.

Mark and I do donate to charity and volunteer in our own ways. I tutor and he delivers groceries for the food bank on breaks. My fitness endeavors, though, have never been a way to reach out to the community.

I thought about it as I drove home (listening to "Fifty Shades of Grey" – oh the paradox). At a New Year's service, a guest pastor challenged the church to think about what their gifts were and how they were going to use them to serve others in 2015. I told Mark that I have no gifts and though I feel like there's something more for me and my story, I don't know what to do with it.

Was/is The Gathering Place the answer? I am not sure. But it did make me think – I'm still thinking, obviously.


  1. What a neat offering! I hope you figure out something that is rewarding for you to fill that space.

  2. What an amazing place! The running group I joined when I was new is affiliated with the Seventh Day Adventist church (I'm near Loma Linda, CA, where the whole community is centered around this church and their hospital/university). We'd meet in the university's gym, which is MASSIVE and offers a ton of classes, seminars, workout and game facilities (squash courts and table tennis stations even!). When we'd do our long runs on the weekend, we'd pass dozens and dozens of community members out walking or running, taking care of themselves and encouraging others. I am not a Christian and don't attend any church, but I greatly respect these people, their mission, and how they were a living testament to their values and reached out to help everyone, not just others of their faith. Truly, there's no greater service you can do for another person than to help them make the most of their life on earth, and I love the idea of doing that through promoting health and wellness.

  3. This seems really cool! I have never heard of something like this, and what a cool way to blend church with a gym. I wish we had something similar near where I live, because i would totally join.

  4. I think you're already using your talents to serve others. You've created a mini community where you inspire and help others with their health and fitness goals ... Not every act of service has to be in person, or be big enough to see from a plane. Your story continues to inspire me and other people. You give ideas, encouragement and camaraderie - it may not be spiritual, but it's still impactful.

  5. Wow, that is a really interesting concept! And what a great way to give back! I could see myself doing that once a month or so (at any location) but... not at the rate I do it now. It's too much work, lol! Like you, I spend money on it, A LOT on music!