Praise Aerobics fuses spirit and flesh SOUTHEAST--Sykesville * Eldersburg * Gamber

EXERCISING FAITHFULLY

January 19, 1993|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff Writer

The congregation at St. Stephen Reformed Episcopal Churc is twisting and shouting while praising the Lord.

Men and women at the Eldersburg church are stepping lively into morning or evening classes organized by Praise Aerobics Inc., a ministry that combines Christian music and heart-healthy exercise.

The nonprofit outreach ministry, open to all faiths, began nine years ago at Bishop Cummins Reformed Episcopal Church in Baltimore County. It stresses exercise to strengthen the cardiovascular system and prayer to bolster participants' spiritual lives.

Three days a week, men and women work out for 75 minutes to sacred sounds and end their exercise with prayer.

"This is a ministry which uses the aerobics medium to draw people to Christ," said Carol B. Ganjon, director of Praise Aerobics since 1987.

Ms. Ganjon, a 47-year-old former physical education teacher, provides choreography, music and encouragement from the background.

"We are most concerned with the lyrics," she said. "We want the words to minister."

She often steps into the class in mid-exercise and belts out commands such as "wiggle and yell." She complains loudly when the room is too quiet.

"I want moaning in pain," she said with a laugh. "I get a little carried away because I really want people to have a good time.

"We aren't like joggers. Did you ever watch joggers? Most aren't enjoying themselves."

Praise Aerobics looks at the whole person, she said, and focuses on spiritual, emotional and physical well-being.

Participants quickly learn the words and sing while they work out. They shout the lyrics to "Celebrate the King of Peace" as they do a fast-paced electric slide. They form a human triangle and move together from corner to corner accompanied by "I Will Follow Him," from the film "Sister Act."

They cool down while listening intently to a hymn that begins, "Father, I want you to hold me and care for me in every way."

"We get the whole bunch singing and dancing as we follow Scripture," said Ms. Ganjon. "After all, David danced before the Lord."

Last fall, when Ms. Ganjon decided to offer the program to other churches, St. Stephen's, a sister church to Bishop Cummins, had just the space.

"We just had this hall built and decided to put it to use right away," said Cathy Hess, who trained as an instructor with Ms. Ganjon and Sharon Reid.

Praise Aerobics teachers learn to weave prayer into their steps.

"I tell the instructors to leave their own selves in the car and come in here to see who they can minister to," said Ms. Ganjon. "All of us are struggling and need encouragement and friendship."

The Eldersburg classes started three weeks ago. Another session will begin at Temple Baptist in Woodlawn, Baltimore County, next month.

"I always wanted to take this program on the road," she said. "Now, I am trying for the whole state."

Linda Goode and Ms. Hess teach the morning sessions at St. Stephen's. Ann Laur defers her workout to the evening class and baby-sits mornings for children whose mothers are exercising.

Praise Aerobics classes have two instructors, "one to mirror and one to face" participants. The teachers begin the class with a prayer.

"We are not young 20s, but we are willing and lively spirits for the Lord," said Ms. Hess.

An instructor will work with any student having difficulty.

"Don't worry about me," said Sherry Graham between breaths. "I need to do this and I am really enjoying it. I always get red in the face."

The class is open to any age. Ms. Ganjon assures everyone they can learn the routines. At Bishop Cummins, she has had a blind student for five years.

"We just feel the music together," she said.

"Bad knees? Troublesome back?

We can work around that," she said. "We don't try to be Ballerina Bess. We come here to have a good time with the Lord."

Following the cool-down exercise, the group hits the floor mats for lifts and stretches. Those who don't have 3-pound weights add canned goods to the routine.

"Lift two, three, four and ouch two, three, four," said Ms. Reid, calling out the strenuous movements. "I hate this, but it's good for me."

Competition is out and teamwork is in, said Ms. Ganjon. The students feel no pressure.

"There are no awards for the most fit," said Ms. Ganjon. "This is not a health club. We are not in this to see who has the best-looking body in a leotard."

Linda Bankard said she enjoys the exercise and the time spent with other "stay-at-home" mothers.

"We make mistakes and laugh along with each other," she said. "They make it fun and loud."

At the end of the floor session, the room becomes silent except for the sounds of "It's Time Jesus Made a Difference in You," and the class prepares for its closing devotional.

The next aerobic session will begin about March 1. Cost for eight weeks of class is $45 and includes baby-sitting. Information: 795-3060.

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