ATLANTA, Oct. 5--
"Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one."
The apostle Paul never joined a fitness club, but he saw similarities between the Christian journey and athletics. Now a Snellville church is taking Paul's analogy another step.
The Snellville United Methodist Church has created "Believercise," a workout class that combines faith and fitness. The church offers an aerobics workout to the tunes of such Christian contemporary musicians as dc Talk, Rebecca St. James, and Sonic Flood.
"It's good for the soul, and it's just as good for the body," said Jean Glazier, 80, who takes the class, which is held three days and one night each week.
The class builds muscle and faith. At the beginning of each class, the instructor reads uplifting biblical passages. The Scriptures tend to revolve around triumphs over personal struggles, such as, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13).
The biblical passages aren't mere daily devotional platitudes to some of the class members. They are verbal lifelines. Some of the women who take the class are survivors of life-threatening illnesses such as brain tumors and breast cancer.
"Many of the passages are applicable to us," said Linda Parks, 49, who has survived brain cancer. "It's wonderful to look around, because some of those ladies in there have had breast cancer. It really inspires you. You think, if they can do it, so can I."
The Snellville United Methodist Church, which has about 5,000 members, started the class about six months ago. The church's leaders thought that fitness could build fellowship. The idea was to build relationships and endurance.
And that's exactly what has happened, "Believercise" instructor Lisia Violette, 35, said. The class started with about six people. Now, each class routinely brings in about 25 people, including youth and men.
"The people in the class treat you different than in an average class," Violette said. "They're more caring, more concerned. They're more open to talking to you. Most other exercise classes, you really don't connect on an emotional level."
Even Jane Moore, an instructor, has been inspired by the class camaraderie. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1998, and it has been in remission since then. Having loving people around her bolsters her optimism.
"People are always asking me how I'm feeling, encouraging me," she said. "They're always looking out for what I'm doing."
The class, though, doesn't bang people over the head with the Bible. After a brief scriptural reference and Christian music, the workout begins.
"You don't have to believe in Jesus to come," Violette said. "It's an overall fun class."
The workout includes standard routines: stretching on mats, kickboxing, aerobics, and using resistance bands for strengthening exercises. The session ends not with a prayer but with a cooling-off period.
The classes are particularly rejuvenating to some of its older members, including Glazier.
"The more you move, the better you feel," she said. "It's an hour that's worth every minute."
But it can help almost anyone who is invigorated by faith and sweat. Parks said her spirits and her physical well-being are lifted after each session.
For her, working out has become a religious exercise. She feels like she can do almost anything--no matter how tedious.
"After I finish," she said, "I feel like I can clean my whole house."