Putting the cross in CrossFit

Members pay monthly fees at new worshiping community to work out physically and spiritually

 by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

FORT EDWARDS, New York – The Rev. Michael Plank is a half-time pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Hudson Falls, New York, and cofounder of a self-sustaining new worshiping community.

In 2014, he and his spouse, Lauren Grogan, opened a gym named Underwood Park CrossFit in Fort Edward, New York. Now more than 100 members pay a monthly fee to work out physically and spiritually there.

CrossFit exercises primarily come from gymnastics, rowing, Olympic-style weightlifting and running. They are challenging, both physically and psychologically.

“This kind of fitness tests your body, for sure,” Plank said. “But it’s also a huge psychological challenge, because it’s hard enough that at times you want to quit. Because you’re doing that around a bunch of other people, all kinds of walls come down.”

Chris Bonenfant joined Underwood Park CrossFit for high-intensity physical workouts. He and his wife, Marinea, who hadn’t been to church in a while, didn’t know Plank was a pastor until they started going to a Friday worship class at Underwood Park called “WAYS.”

“It’s our ‘With All Your Strength’ class, where we choose to come together to explore what God has to do with our daily struggles,” Grogan said. “Because of that, there’s a spirit in the class that feels different.”

During WAYS, Plank and Grogan take the CrossFit workout of the day and mix in elements of Reformed worship, like communal prayer, assurance of grace and passing of the peace, along with Scripture and interpretation, and a communal blessing.

“We mourn together through our struggles,” Grogan said, “and celebrate together through our triumphs.”

Now, because of WAYS and what he’s experiencing at Underwood Park CrossFit, Bonenfant feels as if he’s part of this” growing family.” It’s a group in which participants hold each other accountable, asking each other to become better versions of themselves.

“We share things that we carry with us week to week,” Bonenfant said. “It’s a good place to dump it and then get into a workout afterwards and let some of that stuff go.”

The gym’s oldest member, Bonnie Trevett, is 68. She said the feeling she gets from WAYS carries over to every session she attends at Underwood Park, regardless of the day or time.

There’s a community of support here, where you feel the Holy Spirit amongst us.”

Trevett enjoys working out with her daughter Marie Mercure, who is also a member of First Church in Hudson Falls, where Plank ministers.

“We talk about our problems here,” Mercure said. “How to make ourselves better.”

As people get fit at Underwood Park CrossFit, Plank sees them develop confidence in themselves and bond in community by taking care of themselves.

“When they are ready to be in this kind of community, they are welcomed with an astonishing level of hospitality,” he said, “and that’s where we find God.”

“People are drawn to this type of environment,” Bonenfant added. “It’s working.”

First Presbyterian Church in Hudson Falls, the Presbytery of Albany, the Synod of the Northeast and the Presbyterian Mission Agency have all supported Underwood Park CrossFit in its mission and ministry.

Give to 1001 New Worshiping Communities at presbyterianmission.org/support1001.

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