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Monday, July 31, 2006
What'd they think the "C" stood for?
The front page of The Tennessean has an article about the YMCA weighting "faith vs fitness."

A couple of things about this article really jumped out at me.

"Unfortunately, people look at us and just see a swim and gym," said Alexander, whose Danville Family YMCA in Danville, Ill., has taken recent steps to redress that: displaying the Ten Commandments, banners with biblical verses and a Bible in its lobby.

"Many people are uncomfortable with religion, and I understand. But it's a Christian organization. It's nothing to be ashamed of."

But not everyone agrees.

"I think there's a strong desire at our Y to not be Christian focused," said Amy Amich, membership and marketing director of the McGaw YMCA in Evanston, Ill., where, 30 years ago, the chapel was remodeled into a fitness center and a painting of Jesus Christ was removed from the lobby.

"Our Y would never think of having biblical verses on the wall. The fear is that people will be put off if we identify as Christian."

And later....

But Dick Blattner, chairman of the Hollywood YMCA in Broward County, Fla., had another view. He had just toured a Nashville YMCA.

Nashville YMCAs are one of few nationwide that have inserted the words "Jesus Christ" in their mission statement, which reads, in part, "united by a common loyalty to Jesus Christ for the purpose of helping persons grow in spirit, mind and body."

The YMCA of Middle Tennessee also was promoting its biblical-based program "Journey to Freedom" at the national gathering, a program that offers support to people going through divorce, grief or other life-changing issues.

At the facility Blattner toured, there's a big banner displaying biblical verses in the lobby, a prayer request box and a family Bible prominently displayed.

That was too much of a "big C" for Blattner.

"I'm not Christian," Blattner said. "I respect your religion. But when I see posters and placards on the wall that reflect Christian principles, I feel left out," he said. After the workshop was over, he was more blunt: "It offended me, and I don't think it's right for the Y."

Reading the article, I had no idea that there such a dicotomy within the leadership of the Y between those who apparently want to full embrance the C and all that it means and those who want to distance themselves from it.

As a member of the Y in three cities over the past eight years (all of them in the South), I will admit the first thing that attracted me to the Y was it that it had an indoor and outdoor aquatic facility. I'm a lap swimmer and if I could only do one form of working out, I'd choose swimming hands down, every time. There is something amazingly theraputic about it for me not only physcially but also mentally.

Now all the Y's I've been a member of or have visited in my travels (again all in the Southeast), have had an emphasis on the "C" part of the name. We've had verses from the Bible up on banners, some have spiritual vitamins at the front desk that are slips of paper with Bible verses on them and there have been Bible studies offered at some. But never in my travels or experience have I come across a Y that stated you had to be a "Christian" in order to be a member. They never checked my wallet for my church membership card, but instead accepted me where I was. I had the choice to join and I had the choice of how much or how little to be involved in any or all of the activities. Membership in the Y, to me, didn't necessarily equate to being a Christian.

So, for me the big head scratcher is people who go, "You mean the Y is a Christian organization?!? I had no idea."

To which sarcastically, I'd love to respond--"Yeah, it's kind of in the name."

But that would be rude.

I don't understand why some people want to deny this part of what the Y is. I mean, if all you're looking for is a reasonably priced place to workout, there are plenty of those around. (Oh sure, they'll require you signing a contract wherein if you want you, you must give up your house, car, first-born and possibly your soul, but you can get a pretty good deal.)

As I've said before, I've never felt that at any of the Y's I've been a member of that there was some hidden agenda. The Chrisitianity was there, but it was more than just a Bible sitting out or the spiritual vitamins I could choose to or not to pick up. It seems to me that the Y was living out the Chrisitan ideal as set forth by Jesus to love your neighbor as yourself. I've seen this in the programs they have to keep the Y open and available to everyone, regardless of income level. I've seen it in in the way the leadership and staff of the Y work and operate the various facilities (not just here in middle Tennessee). But never have I felt that the Y was forcing its values or an agenda on me. When I joined there was no box to fill in the name of my church or what denomination I was. There was never any clause saying--well, Michael you can join but you must attend a Bible study a week, etc.

I felt as though the Y and those working at it and running it were instead living the Chrisitan life as an example and not forcing it upon everyone who came in the door.

So, in that area I think the Y is doing a great job.

And it's what makes me wonder about these reports of those who want to de-emphasize the C in YMCA. I don't want to judge them, but it seems to me that by doing that, you're really getting away from makes the Y different from just a place to workout or take swim lessons.

posted by Michael Hickerson at 7/31/2006 01:45:00 PM | |
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