Priests should be more like personal trainers, argues Steve Morris
My journey into personal training began a few years ago. My wife is a renowned fitness addict and she has a personal trainer called Danielle Donnelly.
Probably with a great deal of trepidation she asked if I would like to meet Danielle and do a training session. It was something of an eyeopener. I wasn’t just unfit; I was beyond unfit. What Bradley Wiggins is to elite sport, I was to unfitness. It was pathetic. I felt lost and could see no way of getting fit again.
I weighed 18 stones, could hardly put my socks on in the morning, was constantly at the doctor’s with one ailment or another and wasn’t feeling right about myself at all.
And so the adventure began. At first we did little things, we concentrated on stretching, which itself was amazingly difficult. I was carr ying lots of injuries and these needed treating and rehabilitating before I could get the most out of the sessions.
At some point a breakthrough came. I was able to do an hour session and still walk the next day. Now I have lost weight and am fitter than I was even as a teenager. And I love the sessions. They are painful sometimes, but I have got to trust my body.
I look forward to that wonderful hour when I can be pushed. And it came to me the other day, why can’t priests be a lot more like personal fitness trainers? Let me explain.
When you go for training your instructor is positive. They recognise what you do and they tell you. As adults we rarely get praise or encouragement, but at the gym I do. When was the last time your priest praised you?
I set goals, I see improvements, I gain confidence. It is fun and challenging and there are results. I can see the difference. It is a part of my life I associate with getting the best out of myself. I look forward to it. And my trainer Danielle has my interests at heart and is there to help me get stronger – partly through the exercise, but also through explaining doctrine – teaching me how my body works and how to make it healthier and stronger and suppler. And this is up-to-the minute teaching – teaching that is rigorous and that I trust.
And here’s another thing. The trainer spends all day in hour slots with people. Talking to them, understanding what makes them tick, pushing them on. I suddenly thought that I could probably see a great number of the congregation if I made hour slots and got into the habit of it.
Now imagine if we priests got out from behind our desks and, say, set 10 hours of every week to meet 10 people and help them to develop spiritually in the way my personal trainer does with my fitness.
Imagine if we spent time building people up, helping them to learn, pushing them in their faith and encouraging them that, yes, they will begin to see spiritual strength and muscle.
In some ways getting fit has a lot in common with getting faith. Getting fit has a narrative about ourselves. It says that we are not stuck in the place we have always been stuck. It says that we can become something else. It proclaims hope and glories in the bodies and the potential in them that God has given us. I am not a slob. Praise the Lord!
But most of all it is genuinely uplifting. Wouldn’t it be great if our interaction with seekers was enriching in this way. If people said ‘Wow I can’t wait for my hour with the vicar this week.’ Imagine if we have spiritual training sessions mapped out and that people flooded to them.
So I heartily recommend personal trainer and I have a gem of a trainer. But why can’t we priests and perhaps all Christians take on a role that is more affirming, more developing and more hopeful.
I look back on my time before I was a Christian and thank God that I am now a person of hope and purpose. I look back on my time as a victim of food overindulgence and thank God for my time at the gym.
Chairs are killers because we slump into them and find it hard to get out of them. Let’s be more like personal trainers. Ms Donnelly I salute you!