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Is Gym the New Church?

Updated: Oct 17

In a NYT opinion piece, an author calls health clubs the new church.

People are leaving real church. Millenials want to find something "better". Gen Z wants "something they can get something out of." Seems like everyone is saying "I'm spiritual but not religious."

Did we murder church? Gossip about it and hate on it until it became something we were embarrassed to associate with? "I went to church today!" you may say. "Oh, you did?" a friend may respond. Implying a lot with so little. But the priest scandal was awful. And Sundays are so busy now. The day of rest our only day for chores, or our only morning to sleep in. What happened to real church anyway??

I am a people person. I mean I love people. I love my friends. Love. Probably drive them nuts. And I have fallen in love with all of my gym class friends. Here in the midwest, we are going back into the health clubs and onto the treadmills as squirrels run like crazed sprinters up and down trees with acorns. We enter the wonderful world of team training.

One bonds at the gym. We get to know each other while we squat and take a lap. After the first week of team training, we know each other's "limitations, the bad knee, the back surgeries, the arthritic hip. We know who walks and who runs. The cholesterol counts. The ones who want to be there and the ones who don't. Karen, in my current class, claims she is there "court ordered". We laugh.

After the second week; we know who's married, who's not. Some addresses, numbers of kids, if any, favorite music, where someone went over the week end.

Third week we start to come a bit earlier to talk. Do a few laps around the track together before class starts. We find we like each other. Talk about the daily stuff...give out advice and take it in on our problems.

And by the fourth week, I guess the church sets in. We empathize over problems, hallelujah small triumphs, push each other to be better. One week we worry about our team member, Sig,not being present. Someone starts a message chain and then Sig sends pictures on his way to Alaska. Karen organizes a social gathering.

Group members now walk out the gym doors with a happy - full of the spirit - kind of feeling. A feeling of accomplishment. I mean, you showed up and now you are glad you did. A feeling of happy community warms us. It's like a grandparent high - we love unconditionally and then we leave. Feeling really good.

Real church Merriam Webster says is: a building for public - especially Christian - worship. Does this even describe church in your mind? Not mine.

I read a Chicago pastor's description of a church. He said church, among other things:

-helps us stay spiritually motivated

-motivates us to experience revival

-makes us stronger as a person, and

- ID's you as someone who loves others.

I guess church can come in all shapes and sizes, beings and places: Cathedrals, riversides, at the base of the Tetons on a bike path, friends and leaders.

I am at church with my friend Lydia, who I am pretty sure in the 25 years that I have known her - has never said a bad word about anyone. I am at church with my brothers Martin and Paul, who speak kindly and carefully with every sentence and look at me eye to eye. I am at church with my gym teachers - Mindy who inspires us to be together, to be more than who we came in as on Day 1. Or Amy who is like a human net - never letting anyone fall or feel alone. A trust fall Goddess.

I am drawn to the gym under - as my nephew Conor puts it - the religion of me. I want to lose weight. I want to be fit. I want. I want.

But I leave with friends. Forget myself.

I guess that's what church and a gym class have in common. Needing and then turning outward. Treating others - many so different from me - as I would want to be treated myself.

I like to think people are turning back to each other. Joining gym classes to find community. Of course, the gym is missing a big part of church. Namely, God. Call me old fashioned, but church is God to me. Still, I would like to see this craving of community thing go viral...crazed. Like squirrels gathering acorns in the fall.

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