confession: spin class feeds me more spiritually than church

My dream Sunday morning consists of sleeping a few hours past my weekday alarm of 6am, rolling out of bed to put the kettle on the stove for my coffee, opening my front door to retrieve my Washington Post, making my coffee while looking up pancake recipes, and then making whatever recipe looks best with what ingredients I have at home. It’s slow, unrushed, and centering.

It doesn’t include church. I love mornings in general, and when I lived in Seattle, I attended church at 4:00pm. It was glorious. 11:15am in DC comes a lot sooner than I usually expect it (my snooze alarm and I are getting so serious I should just put a ring on it). Needless to say, my motivation for church has been lacking so much that for Lent I opted to give up pancakes and add church back into my life.

Corporate or Sunday worship has never fulfilled me spiritually. In my adult life I can fit the times I felt it on one hand. I know, this isn’t something I should be saying. I’ve worked in most levels of my denomination, and I have a Master of Divinity degree, on route to become a deaconess… but it’s my truth (or reality to placate my Ph.D. friends). I go to church to see my friends; church has always been communal for me with some light formation.

I like a more grassroots, unpolished church where I’m asked to read scripture out loud with no practice of the Hebrew names of towns and/or people or pulled to help with offering. Yet, I want an elder presiding over communion and someone who is theologically articulate giving the sermon. It’s a weird blend for sure.

This disconnect grew more after I got my master’s and even more so when I moved from Seattle to DC, but I found a community at a church and joined it. I was really good about Sunday attendance for months, then this summer I took a break and it lasted until Lent. I probably went to my congregation’s worship twice in this time, but I picked up attending chapel a few times a month or more at work.

I’m not the model church-goer, yet today I admitted in a public space that I go to church and work for it. Perhaps before I get to my radical (for me) moment of evangelism, I should give a back story.

Last year, I decided the time was now for getting back in shape and discovered a studio that offered spin and yoga classes. I was sold. Since May I have been going for 5-7 classes a week. I do spin 4 times a week, yoga 2-3 times. I have a very embodied theology that is rooted in my personal piety. I believe in nourishment and healthy mind and body, so that, in turn, our bodies and spirits can sustain us for the long work of creating a just world. The fact of the matter is that I leave spin class feeling emboldened, empowered, one with my body, and ready to take on the world. I do not leave church feeling that way.

Back to today, I had just left my spin class and was starting to layer back up for the commute home when someone was talking about the class.

“It’s like church, but way less boring and fun.” (Okay, so I have texted the same words to the chagrin of my clergy friends.) This time it stung; it hit an unknowingly tender spot hard.

That’s when things got weird on my end. I turned around and said, “You haven’t found the right church then.” I felt so awkward that I felt the need to go on and say in the most uncool way possible, “I worked for a church.” I quickly turned around.

Do I think spin class is like church? Yes. My favorite instructor, Shafer, builds us up so that we leave the space ready to change the world. He has all these great quotes and sayings that I weave my own theological lens or biblical references into (I am that nerdy).  I am pushed to a breaking point; all the energy I have bottled up comes out in the form of sweat, tears, and sometimes both.

There is also a communal element to my spin classes. We are encouraged to introduce ourselves to our neighbors. We are asked to turn to each other in class to say, “You’ve got this”, “Your presence is powerful”, or just give a simple high five. We ride to the beat of the song, on the same lead foot. We are together and synchronized. My favorite instructor has taken the time to know me and calls me out by name. In a room full of strangers, I feel more seen in that space than I do in most places.  

Because I religiously attend spin classes, I am better equipped to live into my embodied spirit and live into my vocation. I truly wish I was able to say that about the average worship service.

I am left with the question, if I, a life long church-goer who is deeply committed to my faith journey, have issues with church on Sunday not being fulfilling, what are we to do with those who left the church when their parents stopped forcing them to go or who never went? These are the type of people who don’t add church back as part of a Lenten practice.

Do I have the answers? Not really. (I also tuned out during my worship class in seminary.) I have a fairly comprehensive list of things I don’t like in worship, but I’m not the target audience. I’m just left with the uncomfortable feeling that church worship services are boring and not worth the time to go to (a sentiment I sometimes share), while I am not practicing what I preach, aka, being fully integrated into a faith community.

5 thoughts on “confession: spin class feeds me more spiritually than church

  1. Thanks for this great message, Irene. I share a lot of your feelings. For me it’s hot yoga class, and I feel an enormous rush of joy as I work through the positions and exercises and then step into the cool air outside. I’m wondering if a way to deal with worship is “what can I put into this?” as well as “what can I get out of this?” Maybe one of our churchy problems is that we don’t appreciate the contributions of each churchgoer into the worship and community experience.

    • Thanks, Sandy! I have been trying to put more into worship as of late. I do have to say this Sunday went better.

      I’ve been grappling with performative vs. participatory with worship. Sometimes I feel like performative rules more than participation. More food for thought. 🙂

  2. I have been doing a cross-fit style gym class for about 8 months now and I know exactly what you are talking about. I faithfully lead worship every Sunday morning in my church, but where I am pushed and challenged and known and find that embodiment is in my hour long class at the gym.

    I fully believe church can be like that. I think I can and should be a coach, walking alongside, pushing, encouraging, calling out by name the gifts of my church folks, challenging them to take a step deeper, push past the wall, give a little bit more.

    It is a hard thing to accomplish in a Sunday worship service where we are so isolated, each in our own pew, all facing the front (me). And yet, we are singing the same songs, we can encourage and talk to one another, we should each be giving high fives and making plans to keep it up during the day.

    Is it because church is a once a week thing for most of us (if that?)? Do we need the daily commitment to push ourselves? Do we need more embodied practices? Or smaller groups?

    I continue to pray about how to capture this kind of communal spirit… let me know if you discover it!

    • Thanks, Katey. You are doing both and I love what you are saying. I do agree commitment beyond Sunday needs to happen. I weirdly have a text message small group of UMC folk that’s been going since General Conference. But I know I should do more, but when comes the question. I’m still developing a community in DC and have begun realizing I need to make non-UMC friends to even it all out.

      If I figure it out, I feel like it will be a communal effort. All I know, this is one of my most popular blog posts and its resonating. I hope the conversation is reaching beyond just my circle!

  3. Hi IRD, great article. I love love love watching all of you grow up. Thank you for sharing.

    I went to the Y the other day after spending way too long away. When I walked in the door, I ran into somebody who I worked with in the restaurant business. Shortly thereafter, somebody else from the same restaurant came up to me and gave me a big hug and said hello. A couple minutes later, I saw my zumba instructor. Didn’t have time to say hi to him. I went swimming and then ran into the former director of the Y when I got out of the pool. I’m Facebook friends with all of these people so they know my politics and we’ll talk politics sometimes. We’re not all in the same place. What we have in common is that we go to the Y and work out together. When I go to church, however, I must confess that I kind of want to know just what kind of church I’m going to. Is it a church on the left or on the right? I much prefer one over the other, some of you already know my preference. We stand together and look at those folks over there and throw weapons at them even as they throw weapons at us. There is no community, just an alliance. Sandy, you and I both would probably agree that our first mentor, David Aasen, was very much for building community and not alliance despite his own very eclectic positions.

    Just got done reading Brene Brown’s new book Braving the Wilderness. She talks about this. That’s why it was such a lesson for me going to the Y recently. I never intend to ditch my political and theological convictions and I will take a stand for what I think is right. At the same time, I’m drawn more and more towards the goal of building diverse community. I always think of Glide Memorial Methodist which is rich and poor, gay and straight, Christian and some other religion. It is also Cecil Williams going golfing with Clint Eastwood. I like that image.

    I have started two Meetup groups with the goal of community in mind. One group meets once a month and does something similar to a talking stick around the questions “What are the building blocks that make the United States great?” and “What stands in the way of those building blocks?”. This group is designed to create opportunities for active listening. It is modeled after Margaret Wheatley’s book Turning to One Another which was used by the cabinet for listening sessions during my time. The second group is starting at the end of April. The title of the group is “Losing My Religion.” We are going to focus on sharing our stories from the perspective of the developmental stages. I’m excited about the prospects of this group.

    I want to do way more to help build authentic community because it’s the best thing my generation can do for your generation IRD.

    I hope all is well.


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