YMCA. There was a child care center that would watch my little preschoolers for a couple of hours while I exercised and showered. I worked with a trainer and learned to use machines and free weights. I took aerobics, tai chi, yoga and pilates classes. My kids took swim, dance and gymnastics lessons. They went to preschool. I volunteered at the preschool, got trained and taught kids and adult yoga classes, and helped in the annual fundraising efforts that provided reduced membership and class fees for low income families like ours.
That Y was great because there was a true sense of community. The early morning aerobics class had a core group of women who had been working out together for 20 years. On Thursday afternoons, the ballet class parents held a potluck dinner in the courtyard, while the children danced and played. We were all together, young and old, each with our own place and purpose. I still miss those kind and supportive people who helped me through the years of young motherhood and postpartum depression to become physically strong and confident in a way I never had been before.
For many members, the YMCA was their community center. Though they came with the individual purpose of exercising or taking a class, they stayed because common friendship. They were needed, missed in their absences, welcomed upon return. Time spent there was split between directed activities with a clear sense of purpose and relaxed socializing in the courtyard or around the coffee cart. The camaraderie was not exclusionary; new people were welcomed and were as much a part of the community as they chose to be.
I don’t know if that Y still has that sense of community. I do know that I still miss it and have never found anything quite like it. I also know that I like our church when it is most like that YMCA. I love the Wednesday nights when it is bustling with cub scouts and young men and young women. The bishop takes a break from his interviews to survey the activity and talk to the parents and leaders and kids. I like it when ESL classes meet in otherwise vacant rooms, when college students offer free tutoring for our grateful neighborhood kids, most of whom are desperately poor.
I like that the stake building has the genealogy center, staffed by volunteers so we can have free access to vast databases. One of our building even has a little computer class/preschool young mothers can bring their children to. And Friday morning I taught a yoga class to thirty women from our two adjacent stakes, our children watching a movie and playing in the gym around us. Our bi-stake fitness class has been going for years, three mornings a week of aerobics, step, cardio circuit, kickboxing, and zumba. No men are allowed, but women of all ages, members and neighbors, from the youth and college aged students to young mothers to grandmothers, meet together with purpose and companionship.
Sunday services are a different matter, and our buildings are quite efficiently designed for those meetings. I am grateful that we have these buildings to worship in, that our church goes out of its way to provide meetinghouses even for small congregations in out of the way places. But it saddens me that so much of the time, our buildings are lying dormant and unused, empty for much of the week. I don’t want to turn our churches in to fitness centers, but I do believe that we and our communities benefit as we open them up for more than our Sunday services.
Few of the members at the La Jolla YMCA were religious people. They lacked a religious home, a religious community. We have that in our church, but we sometimes lack a sense of community. Sometimes it feels that our church is a place where we worship and serve our callings, and then leave as quickly as possible to get back to our lives. But I want the gospel to permeate my entire life, to love and serve and know my neighbors throughout the week and through my different activities. I want the church to be at the center of it all.