Fitness builds faith at any age
By Lindsay Peyton
Imagine a space with fitness classes for all levels and ages, a gym for adult basketball pick-up games or pickleball and a volleyball league. Nearby, children learn soccer skills or practice shooting hoops. You might picture a health club or a gym designed for the community. Instead, this describes the recreation ministry of The Woodlands UMC. “The goal is to bring people to Jesus, though sports and fitness,” Athletic Director Garrett Ritter said.
He explained that the church believes that health is spiritual, as well as physical, emotional and mental. “It’s important to focus on total wellness,” he said. “That includes diet, fitness, faith and fellowship.”
And if something is missing from the equation, health usually fails. “When one piece is gone, there’s a domino effect,” Ritter said.
That’s why the church made its recreation program an essential focus of its 2019 expansion. The first project to be completed was a 19,000-square foot Recreation Center, complete with gym, fitness classrooms and locker rooms.
The center opened in 2019, right before COVID. Now, Ritter said, programs are almost all returning in full. There are adult classes in Jazzercise, Restore the Core, Tai Chi, the Nia technique and yoga.
Both The Woodlands and Woodforest campus also host a senior adult fitness course, which focuses on movement, stretching, strength and achieving a full range of motion. “We’ve got folks from their 60s to their 90s in the class,” Ritter said. The course is also streamed online to make it more accessible to those who prefer to exercise from home.
The senior program kicked off on Jan. 11. Each participant received a t-shirt bearing this year’s motto: “Grow in Faith and Strength.”
January also means that children, kindergarten through fourth grade, can sign up to learn soccer skills. That’s also the time adults can enroll in the volleyball league.
Just as the New Year brings renewed energy to gyms, The Woodlands UMC’s fitness program also gains momentum this time of year, Ritter said. “Everyone is geared up and ready to get back to it in January,” he said.
And they know that courses will continue year-round. “We’ve got classes from 6:30 a.m. or 7 a.m. until noon every day of the week – and some meet in the evening,” Ritter said. “This is here — and we want you here. We want you to enjoy a fitness class. Just come in and have fun. If you don’t do something you like, it won’t last.”
“Try something new. Try something fun,” he added. “Find something you love. We’ll guide you along the way.”
Serving Christ in new, active ways
Sandra Huskey will lead the senior program in January. “She has this passion for serving Christ through fitness,” Ritter said.
She served The Woodlands UMC as Director of Intermediate Ministries for the 5th and 6th graders and confirmation in Children’s Ministry starting in 2008. Then she became Director of Fitness in Recreation Ministry. She also was the coach for the cross country and track team for The Woodlands Methodist school.
It all started when Huskey was at the grocery store and randomly ran into her pastor. That’s when she first shared her idea about starting a running club at church. “He was like, ‘Let’s do it,’” she recalled.
Later, the two brainstormed. What began as a running group turned into a full time job for Huskey.
Already, The Woodlands UMC was committed to offering sports and fitness to the community. There were sports for children on campus, and a few fitness groups were meeting at the church.
Huskey’s role was to oversee current programs and look for opportunities to expand them. She also started the running club going and also offered her own classes.
In 2018, Huskey left the post to become a running concierge at the Westin in The Woodlands, as well as a coach for a Diabetes Prevention Program in the neighborhood.
Then, last summer, Huskey found herself back at the church. A friend asked her to teach the “Daniel Plan” for women’s ministry.
Huskey explained that the book was developed by Pastor Rick Warren in 2013. “He was concerned about his parishioners, but he also realized, ‘I’m not a good example myself,’” she said.
He established a protocol focused on nutrition, fitness and faith to help his congregation. The book ended up taking off.
Huskey was excited to offer these lessons to the women’s ministry at The Woodlands UMC. Part of the sessions were classes on various health subjects, and part was dedicated to learning about fitness.
Huskey provided participants with follow-up emails after each class to reinforce the lessons. She also outlined a fitness plan and called it, “Faith in Action.” She would include Bible verses. “I didn’t just do fitness,” she said. “It was something to think about.”
The course lasted for seven weeks. In January, she will reprise the program – and also offer a second installment for past participants so they can continue their fitness journeys.
Faith and fitness
Including faith in fitness is a gamechanger for improving health, Huskey explained. “It makes it completely different,” she said. “The whole idea of living in faith is doing something you don’t totally feel you can do on your own.”
God provides the strength to face health challenges, she added. “You are making a lifestyle change, and you are calling on God to work through you,” she said. “He wants you to be healthy. He wants us to take care of ourselves.”
By taking care of ourselves, we can better serve others, Huskey added. She explained that God created your body as a vessel. “And He wants you to take care of it the best you can,” she said.
Huskey is inspired by scripture, from 3 John 2, “Dear friend, I hope all is well with you and that you are as healthy in body as you are strong in spirit.”
“That’s a letter – and it’s directed to you,” she tells her students.
She reads 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
Ritter also uses sports as a way to learn more about faith. “This really relates to the virtues that Jesus teaches,” he said. “Sports and fitness challenge you and teach you how to respond to adversity, how to overcome, how to have integrity, how to learn and grow.”
The recreation ministry at The Woodlands UMC provides a way for the church to meet the community – and for neighbors to take a first step on campus. The classes and programs are open to all, and Ritter describes them as a front door to discipleship.
“God is using this ministry in some amazing ways,” he added. “All the glory to Him.”