Priests should be more like per­sonal train­ers, ar­gues Steve Mor­ris

The Church of England - - SUNDAY -

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!

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