The church can play a role in encouraging health and fitness – and congregations around the Texas Annual Conference are finding ways to promote exercise. For some, it may be as simple as hosting an exercise class in an unused classroom, while others manage full-time facilities dedicated to sports and recreation. Regardless of the method, churches are finding fitness can benefit their members and encourage fellowship – as well as provide a way to engage in the community.
Fellowship and exercise at Lake Rayburn UMC
The members of the Ladies Exercise Group at Lake Rayburn UMC in Brookeland can hardly remember when they first started meeting. But one thing is for sure – they never want to miss a class.
The group’s current leader Ginger Becker moved to the area in 2013. At the time, her neighbor Margie Saulsbury headed the exercise class. “She was a doll and took me under her wing and got me involved in everything,” Becker said.
Becker is Catholic and the group is open to all denominations. “We have Baptists, Catholics, Methodists, and members of the Church of Christ,” she said. “We all believe in God. Sometimes we have six women, and sometimes we have 18.”
The youngest member is in her mid-40s, while the oldest is 86. Becker said that not everyone can do all of the exercises. “The key is to keep moving,” she said. “That’s all you have to do.”
Becker is not a personal trainer. Instead, she turns on workout videos and the ladies follow along. There are three classes a week – Monday, Wednesday and Friday – and members rotate between arms and legs, weights and stretching. “It’s a great workout,” Becker said. “By the end of the week, I can honestly say we worked every muscle.”
Sue Redding led the group for a while. She joined about 22 years ago – and the class was already active. “I had never exercised before,” she said. Now 86, Redding credits the class for making her fit and healthy. “It’s helped me stay active.” Most of all, Redding enjoys the camaraderie. “It’s wonderful to be at the church with a nice group,” she said.
Church member Fritzi Fralick attends almost every class with the Ladies Exercise Group. She started in 2015. “This group is really how I got more involved with the church,” she said. “And it’s just amazing to see the women in such good shape, mentally and physically.”
Fralick said that while the group is not a church activity, simply meeting in the building still draws attention to the congregation. “It makes people aware of us,” she said. “It makes people who do not have a church home more comfortable. Sometimes, a lady from the exercise group will attend a church service, and they’ll already know a few faces when they come,” she said.
“It’s a good use of the facilities,” Fralick said. “There’s no reason for the church to be empty all week.” Some participants have even ended up joining Lake Rayburn UMC.
Serving the community through recreation at FUMC Houston’s Quillian Center
The Quillian Center, a sports and recreation ministry of FUMC Houston, was established in 1958. Executive director Tom Gaden said the facility was actually the dream of the church’s late pastor Dr. Paul Quillian. “He died with the plans for the facility on his desk,” Gaden said. “The church members picked up the mantle and built the center in his memory.”
At first, Quillian was located in Alief and used primarily as a retreat center. Then the facility fell into disrepair. A church member donated funds to renovate it, and a grand reopening was held in 1984. That’s also the year Gaden was brought to serve at the helm.
In 1992, the Quillian Center moved onto the FUMC Houston campus, after the original facility was sold to the city. “Now we’re all together,” Gaden said. He explained that the center is used for after-school activities and summer camps, as well as a number of sporting programs for both youth and adults. There are bootcamp fitness classes, golf lessons and volleyball games, in addition to basketball games and soccer matches for all ages.
The facilities at Quillian Center include two sports fields, an open air pavilion, 400-meter fitness trail, playgrounds, an indoor gymnasium, game room and a climbing wall. There are even four pickleball courts. “On Saturday mornings, it is packed,” Gaden said. The competition-size swimming pool and Noah’s Ark water park are also popular draws to the center.
The gym is mostly filled with area residents, not church members, Gaden explained. “Not too many churches have a recreation ministry,” he said. “Many of those that do are for church members. Our model is a little different.” At the Quillian Center, the entire community is invited to build body, mind and soul in a Christian environment.
Gaden explained that the center is a way for the church to offer outreach to neighbors – and also to welcome people to campus in a whole new way. “You might have a good preacher and choir, but not everyone is looking for that. This is another avenue for the church, and it works, “I’ve seen generations come through these doors,” Gaden said.
Promoting health at Magnolia UMC’s Fitness Center
It wasn’t long after Pastor Carrie DeLeon learned of her appointment to Magnolia UMC, which started Oct. 1, that she discovered the church’s unique ministry – a 24-hour gym. Magnolia Fitness Center is complete with certified personal trainers and a calendar full of exercise classes.
“This church is made for me,” DeLeon thought. “It’s a wonderful way to be in ministry with the community beyond our walls.” She is a firm believer that faith and fitness are connected. “Scripture tells us that our bodies are temples, the place where the spirit presides,” DeLeon said. “Your whole self needs care – physical and spiritual.”
The pastor explained that the fitness center is a great way to demonstrate the church’s commitment to overall well-being. “It’s about the whole health of the person – not just spiritual but bodily health as well,” DeLeon said.
The center’s director Kris Frenchak wholeheartedly agrees. “God tells us that we’re supposed to take care of our bodies,” she said. “It’s glorifying God when we work out and take care of ourselves.” A longtime member, Frenchak was teaching exercise classes three times a week in the church’s sanctuary before the fitness ministry began.
Frenchak explained that when the gym and its adjacent acreage became available for sale, members took a leap of faith and purchased it. A committee formed, initially with plans to gut the fitness center and build an education facility.
“But the gym already had a lot of equipment – and 100 members,” Frenchak recalled. Continuing to operate the facility seemed like a smart way to recoup some of the initial investment. “We thought we could pay for the electricity if we kept running it,” Frenchak said.
Over time, however, the gym’s membership became a good source of revenue for the church. “It has been a blessing,” Frenchak said. There are now more than 600 family unit members. “We provide 51 fitness classes a week, and have four personal trainers,” Frenchak said. “And we offer Silver Sneakers classes twice a day.”
In addition, the pool makes it possible to offer water aerobic classes and paddle board fitness programs. Frenchak’s husband Brent also built a half-mile track outside.
Providing for the health of the community is a rewarding outreach for the church, Frenchak said. Even gym members who do not call the church home still donate to Magnolia UMC’s programs and food drives. “They bring something in whenever our church is doing something,” he added, “And that helps us reach a little deeper and do a little more.”
A TV in the front lobby of the gym displays church events and programs. “Occasionally, people will wander over,” Frenchak said. She also brings a group of women from the Wednesday morning exercise class over to a Bible study. “It started off with eight of us – and it’s grown to 18 or 20,” she said.
Magnolia Fitness Center has a “Cheers” vibe, Frenchak added. Members know each others’ names and care about one another. “It’s awesome walking in there,” Frenchak said. The ministry happened serendipitously at Magnolia UMC and ended up having a major impact. “It’s something that fell into our laps,” Frenchak said. “And it’s been incredible.”