The Roman Catholic church is a force unto itself in central Minnesota. 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. When I was growing up here, most of my friends were Catholic (I was raised in the Protestant church) and our little town has not one, but two very large Catholic churches. I’d say Catholicism is pretty much woven into the landscape.
With that in mind, I guess that I shouldn’t have been so surprised when the church made its presence known recently at 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 handful of treadmills. I’d been walking for about 15 minutes when I noticed in the wall-to-wall mirrors that everyone in the gym was staring intently at the bank of three televisions. Glancing up I could see a Catholic mass in progress…on all of the screens.
Then, in unison, everyone in the gym began genuflecting and responding to the priest’s greeting and prayers. Suddenly, 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 when I got home and look at the fine print. Honestly, this is rural Minnesota, so anything is possible.
In the meantime, I took a deep breath, turned off my iPod and decided to remain neutral, but respectful.
I’ve been to a lot of Roman Catholic masses, but this one was certainly the oddest. Funny thing is, I was the only one who thought it was in the least bit weird. Everyone else just seemed happy to squeeze in a workout with their heavenly father.