“So a Priest Walks Into This Gym, and Says…”

by Nancy Wurtzel on March 12, 2012

Since returning to my native state late last year, I have been reminded that Roman Catholic church is a force unto itself in Minnesota.  In my small home town, you can turn on the television at any time of day and find a catholic mass being said, a nun being interviewed or lay people talking about church activities.

My father was Roman Catholic and very devout, but my mother was Protestant and that’s the church my sisters I attended.  When I was growing up, most of my friends were Catholic and our little hamlet  has not one, but two very large Catholic churches.  I’d say Catholicism is pretty much woven into the social landscape.

With that in mind, I guess that I shouldn’t have been surprised when the church made its presence known recently at my gym.

Yes, you read that correctly.  My gym.

It was the middle of the afternoon.  There were five or six other people working out on machines, and I was lucky to get one of the three working treadmills.  I’d been walking for about 15 minutes when I glanced up and saw in the wall-to-wall mirrors that everyone in the gym was staring intently at the bank of three televisions.

Looking up, I could see a Catholic mass in progress…on all of the screens.

Then, in unison, almost everyone in the gym began genuflecting and responding to the priest’s greeting and prayers.  Next, they bowed their heads in prayer.

Uh, oh.  What was I supposed to do — give my fellow gym rats the agnostic stink eye or fake my participation?  Recite a litany or just wait it out and hum along to a hymn? What in god’s name is the proper gym protocol in this situation?

As the mass continued (both on the screens and in the gym), I got to thinking: Isn’t there a law mandating separation of church and gym?  I was definitely under the impression that this gym was secular.  I’m still a fairly new member, but I don’t recall anyone telling me about mandatory mass on Monday afternoon.

I’d have to find my contract and look at the fine print.

In the meantime, I took a deep breath, turned off my iPod, and decided to remain neutral, but respectful.

I can tell you that I’ve been to a lot of Roman Catholic masses in my life, but this one was certainly the oddest.  Yet, it was obvious I was the only one who thought it was in the least bit weird.  Everyone else seemed quite happy to squeeze in a workout and connect with their heavenly father.


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