Squeezing Fitness into Clergy Life

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By Rev. Debbie Sperry

I have never been the fitness type. I am reliably unathletic. When I was young, I liked playing sports, but only if they weren’t too competitive, because I really don’t like to lose. I’ve done workout plans and weight loss plans and even trained for and ran a half marathon once. Still, generally, the busyness of my schedule and my inclination for rest and relaxation tended to override any prompting to exercise. 

And then, in my last church, there was a woman who was a personal trainer. She did classes for moms (with kids in tow), but they were always mid-morning, and disrupting my workday at that time was just untenable. But in the Fall of 2019, when she offered a 5:45 a.m. class, I was excited. I could get a good workout in before my kids were even awake and then have the rest of the day to work and do what I needed to do. It was great. Generally, it was just the two of us (no one else wanted to be up before the sun), and we slowly started adding days. I regularly invited others, and slowly we gained more members. 

When COVID hit, we were working out six mornings a week, and we switched to Google hangouts to stay safe. It was nice to start the day with a workout, get some endorphins going, and move my body. It also made me sweat, which prompted a shower, so I was getting ready every single day, which helped keep anxiety and depression at bay. We moved to outdoor workouts when we could, then back indoors and masked in the winter months until vaccines were available. 

Then, in July of 2021, I was reappointed, and my daily workouts stopped. After a couple of weeks, I rededicated myself to walking and running but struggled to keep up with the daily cardio and strength training. I had to claim space in our new garage, which required unpacking boxes I didn’t want to tackle. I had to battle temperatures nearly 30 degrees higher than what I experienced in Northern Idaho, and worst of all, I didn’t have others to work out with. It was hard to hold myself to the same standards when it was just me, myself, and I. 

And yet, those nearly two years of regular workouts taught me how much better I feel after working out, how it clears my head, how it moves emotional energy out of my body, how the endorphins make me an all-around better human. I knew I still needed that. So I regrouped. I unpacked that tower of boxes. I set up my weights. I wrote out the workouts. I got up early to beat the heat. And I convinced myself that—people or no people—it was worth it. It’s not what it was before, but it’s me moving my body, getting my heart rate up, stretching, strength training, and being mindful about my overall health. And then I got busy, and excuses were easier to find. We made space for house guests, which required moving stuff into my workout space. So I’m back to reclaiming the time and space for all of it. 

I am reminded that I have to prioritize exercise if it really matters to me. Like Sabbath, play, or relationship building, it won’t happen if I don’t make time for it. I try not to beat myself up for what has shifted. In fact, I try and hold fast to something I read while working out pre-pandemic, which said, your exercise routine may change for different seasons in your life, and that’s okay. There’s no one routine you have to stick to. It’s okay to try and love different things along the way. So, while HIIT was my mainstay, it’s okay for it to be walking and stretching right now. Maybe later it will be Zumba or kickboxing, and maybe next summer, when the weather is warm and the river here is nice, I might go with paddle boarding and kayaking.Whatever the specific activity may be, I know that exercise isn’t just good for my body, but it really does improve my mental and emotional health. It often gives me a chance to take a walk and talk on the phone with a colleague or friend, and I really can’t beat the uptick in endorphins.

As I share my journey, knowing how hard this season of ministry has been for all of us—both clergy and laity—I pray that you, too, make space for some form of exercise and receive the gifts it has to offer.


Rev. Debbie Sperry serves as pastor of Wenatchee First United Methodist Church in Wenatchee, Washington.

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