Casselberry, Florida– Philippians 4:8 “Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable – if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise – dwell on these things.”
Bethel Yoga is a Fresh Expression that meets Sundays and Tuesdays at Tuskawilla United Methodist Church in Casselberry, FL. Sarah Miller, pastor at Tuskawilla United Methodist started Bethel Yoga in January of 2016. The yoga class is intergenerational with participants having ranged from age 9 to 69. They meet for 75 minutes and open with Scripture Reading and Prayer. Sarah says, “We have always been very bold and committed to the fact that we are gathering for intentional Christian community. But it’s also welcome to the public, and we have community members who come practice and sit in devotional times with us.” Sarah saw the opportunity to start Bethel Yoga in October of 2015 while at a Fresh Expressions training meeting. She says, “I’ve always had a heart for people who feel they don’t have a place at the table or have been hurt at the table.” The community uses their time together for restoration and rejuvenation of heart, soul, mind and body.
Restoration and Challenge
The name Bethel Yoga was chosen intentionally, as it casts vision to the purpose. “It has its name from the scripture in Genesis,” Sarah says, “where a well is dug as a place of restoration in the story of Jacob. The establishment of the well at Bethel was following the night Jacob wrestled with God. We want Bethel Yoga to be a place where people can come and be restored and challenged.” Sarah intentionally challenges her community and points them towards God. She says, “We all come to our mats having wrestled with something. Whether it’s God, or work, or groceries. We want this to be a place you can come to be rejuvenated in a safe environment.”
Running the class in a manner that is restorative and challenging requires Sarah to be aware of her communities needs and limitations. Sarah says, “When we’re doing yoga I’m focused on teaching yoga and teaching the poses while making sure people feel accomplished. Then I make sure to get them out of the poses safely with awareness of their needs. This person may have had 2 knees replaced or that person has a strained rotator cuff. I’m honed in on the practice during that time. I have children who come with their parents, I have couples that come and use that time to connect with each other. I have single people come, but everyone is completely at ease in the environment.” The class has helped increase flexibility and strength in the community, and has nourished souls with truth and good things. The class wraps up their time by re-reading the scripture from the beginning, and Sarah reads a complimentary devotional with a prompt at the end. The prompt questions such as, “When was the last time you can remember when you were angry at God?” and then there is time for journaling and group response.
Finding a Balance Pose
Bethel Yoga grew out of an already established worshipping community. “I’m a full time pastor at the church,” says Sarah. “There are people that come to Bethel who are worshipping members at my church.” Because Bethel Yoga meets in Sarah’s church, it can be hard to attract the non-churched and de-churched. There are people who will not cross the threshold of a church regardless of what is being offered. Since its start in 2016, Sarah has seen over 100 different people come through Bethel Yoga, and it has been a touching point for many of them. Each of those people has been exposed to the truth of God’s word, and many seeds have been planted through their common interest. Sarah wants to grow Bethel Yoga and would like to see it grow outside of her church but there are some complications.
One of Bethel Yoga’s goals is to move the practice outside of Tuskawilla United Methodist to the community. There of a lot of logistical details that need to come together, and some obstacles that are present in this endeavor. “There’s a huge movement in Florida where everyone and their mom wants to do yoga in a park. Because of this,” Sarah explained, “City, County, and State Officials want to find a way to make money from that. So now they require permits for your event if it takes place on the grass.” To move Bethel Yoga away from the church to a community centered site would require financial backing in order to obtain a permit with the local parks. Sarah doesn’t charge anything for Bethel Yoga, so the funds would have to come from her church or the Bethel Yoga community itself. “There’s great potential for Bethel Yoga, but it doesn’t look like the norm for a worshipping community.”
Looking forward, Sarah thinks, “there’s a great need to further empower lay people to do this work.” As Sarah faces the future, she and her community are looking into that question and seeking to empower lay people to step into roles of leadership which will enable Bethel Yoga and other Fresh Expressions of church to develop and grow.
For more information about Bethel Yoga, please see the following link: http://www.tumcfl.org/index.php
Connor Janney was a Communications Intern for Fresh Expressions the summer of 2017. He is a Senior at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia and expects to graduate in May of 2018.