Shady Grove Presbyterian Church is nestled in the heart of East Memphis. Movement is an integral part of its congregational life. The church offers weekly tai chi and Pilates classes and is the host site for Our Own Voice Theatre Troupe, a company that provides theater and movement workshops with an emphasis on mental health.
Shady Grove has incorporated movement into services by having liturgical dance, as well as having the youth group lead energizers during worship. Shady Grove ministers to the larger community and supports a neighboring school by hosting an annual 5K race.
Movement programs got started by organizers volunteering their time and talents to meet the interests of the community. Tai chi instructor Dr. Cynthia Mealer shared how her classes got started. Cynthia and her husband, Dr. Bill Mealer, are both psychologists.
“When we visited Shady Grove,” Cynthia said, “we talked about tai chi as we got to know people. They expressed an interest and we began holding classes.” On a recent Monday night, there were 23 participants representing diverse ages and abilities. The class is free and open to the public. Cynthia described tai chi as a “moving meditation that stills your mind, activates your parasympathetic nervous system (turns off ‘fight or flight’), and allows you to be less reactive.”
Cynthia reported that most participants “experience increased peacefulness, relaxation, and improved sleep along with improvements in pain, balance, headaches, and stress.”
Student David E. Jones expressed that “MS limited my mobility. Tai chi is a very simple and low impact way to improve my balance.” David stands for most of the class; however, he shared that he keeps his cane close by and a chair behind him in case he becomes fatigued.
When asked what her favorite part of offering this movement ministry is, Cynthia replied, “The fellowship and connection of the class members is my favorite part.”
If you are thinking about integrating movement into the life of your congregation, start by finding out what the gifts and talents are from the people within your faith community. Then, build your programming from there. Making space for movement at your place of worship is a sacred gift to care for both body and spirit.
Kimberly Baker is manager of Church Health’s pediatric prevention and wellness program, The Well. She also manages Church Health’s Creative Movement Studio.