Reverends who run get physically and spiritually fit
By Lindsay Peyton
Just because they’re pastors doesn’t stop them from hitting the track or competing in a race. These reverends who run find that heading outside for a jog helps relieve stress and also provides health benefits. They also find parallels with running and their faith – or even get inspiration for an upcoming sermon while on the go.
It doesn’t take long after Pastor John Thomas at Carroll Springs UMC laces up his sneakers for his run that he clicks on the Bible App on his phone. His time running is often spent in devotional learning and prayer. “It gives me a chance to get in touch with the Almighty,” he said.
Thomas also likes to listen to music or a recorded sermon from one of his favorite Reverends, like Rev. Eric Huffman at The Story in Houston. Sometimes, he’ll queue up a recording of his own service from the Sunday before.
“It’s like a post-game analysis,” Thomas said.
He would know, after all, having spent 11 years as a teacher and sports coach. From his time on the basketball court, baseball diamond and football field, he learned the importance of health and how exercise reduces stress.
Thomas quoted Corinthians, which says the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, received by God. “If my body is on loan, then it’s my job to take care of it,” he said.
Still, Thomas’ own health took a back seat in the past few years and he gained weight as a result. His doctor told him to cut down on sweets, and his wife asked him to spend time improving his health.
“I got back into it, because I love my wife, and I love God,” Thomas said. “It was fear, but the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. I started making wiser choices. Christ is taking care of me. The least I can do is take care of myself.”
Today, he runs about five days a week, mixing up his routines from 3 miles to 5 miles and sometimes working out with weights. He has lost weight too, going from 250 pounds down to 204 pounds.
Sometimes, running is a struggle. “It’s a discipline,” Thomas said. “It’s hard work, but it’s worth it.”
A few years ago, Thomas realized that running could do more than improve his health. He decided to ask his congregation to sponsor him in a 15K that served as a fundraiser to end sex trafficking.
“When you run, it’s not just about you,” he said. “It’s about helping others.”
Now fundraising runs are the norm for the church. Recently, the congregation, which has about 75 members attending each week, raised more than $280 at the Paint Palestine Pink Run for breast cancer to help provide mammograms to uninsured women.
Running for a cause also appealed to Associate Pastor Patricia Lund at First UMC Athens and Trinidad UMC. She wanted to join a walk/run event to raise awareness of melanoma in Houston.
“I thought, ‘I could walk a 5K and that would be great. But what if I actually ran it?’” she recalled.
Lund ended up falling in love with running and continued to compete in half marathons. Now, she’s preparing for a full marathon in March. She finds that morning jogs help relieve the stress of her post.
“There’s a lot of pressure,” she said.
She runs three days a week and then trains in the gym – but will be working out more often to prepare for the marathon.
Running outdoors helps Lund feels the presence of God. Almost every morning, she watches the sun rise and thinks about how easily she could have missed the sight if she had stayed in bed.
“I connect with God through nature,” she said. “Running helps me stay centered and find God.”
She also has gained discipline and resiliency through running. “It helps you focus on the important things, the things that matter most,” she said. “I’m always grateful that I did it – even after my worst run. I still learned something. I still finished. At the end of the day, I didn’t give up.”
Pastor Collin Taylor at Grace UMC in Houston’s Heights neighborhood completed an Ironman Triathlon in April. He started running about 10 years ago after realizing he was out of shape and overweight.
Taylor tried P90X, CrossFit and boot camps to become more fit. Running ended up being one of his favorite workouts. Before long, he was competing in races – and now he has lost 50 pounds.
He likes to listen to spiritual music while running. “I use it as a time to worship and for prayer,” he said.
Taylor also the meditative quality of a run helps him get ideas for his next sermon.
Thomas hopes to inspire others to take up exercise. When he finishes running, he shares his workouts on social media, along with an inspirational Bible verse.
“It I make one person’s morning better, because of the shared workout, the Bible quote, something that’s positive, it increases my faith,” Thomas said. “It makes me feel good. It makes me feel like I’m contributing to the Kingdom.”
He believes being physically fit can help individuals become better able to serve God – and to be better neighbors, spouses and friends. “You can’t be the best you can be if you don’t take care of yourself,” he said. “I want people to be inspired to love Christ – and to love their families more – by working out.”
For individuals who want to start running, Lund recommends buying the right shoes and finding a focus. Instead of worrying about losing weight, she suggests thinking about overall health.
Not everyone has to run to be more active, Lund added. “Find something you love,” she said. “And give it two weeks. Find people who support you. That’s super important.”
Taylor started a running club at his previous post at Memorial Drive UMC. “We liked to say that we praise God through our exercise,” he recalled.
Thomas is often asked for advice on how to get in shape. He tells them, “Start with going a half mile. Then try to go a little further the next day. It’s a little bit at a time. Before you know it, you’re running five or six miles.”