Church ministering to bodies and souls

Stretch class keeps participants limber
by: Aubrie Aurand, Joy Ward leads a stretch class at Powell Valley Covenant Church in Gresham on Wednesday evening, March 28. Participants use a variety of exercises to stay limber.

A group of men and women walk briskly around the seating area, bump their behinds against the walls and stroll about in pairs as onlookers applaud their moves.

It's not ladies' night at a dance club, nor is it the meeting of some strange cult. It's Wednesday night at Powell Valley Covenant Church, 1335 S.E. 282nd Ave., Gresham, which means it's time to stretch.

Jody Ward, 61, stretch class leader, exhorts her charges to move their arms and legs and teaches them various exercises involving lightweight barbells and inflated balls.

Ward is a gentle but determined leader, constantly calling on the seven adults and two children present to put their best feet forward, as well as their hands, elbows and heads.

'Grab hold of your toes and come up.'

'Relax one shoulder and bring the other one up.'

'You're going to put your fingertips right above your ear.'

At one point, participants hold onto posts and lift their legs at 45-degree angles.

'This makes me feel like a swan,' a lady says.

Every now and then, Ward herself utters an 'oweee!' as she stretches an underused muscle.

'I've got to be the only exercise leader who others can see grimace in pain,' she says.

'I started this class for purely selfish reasons,' Ward says. 'I am a diabetic, I'm overweight and the old bones and muscles HURT these days!'

Ward began offering the free stretch class last September, and notes that it concentrates on exercises dealing with muscle pain in the neck, shoulders, back and legs. All exercises are done with participants sitting in a chair or standing. No floor exercises are used, and there's also a segment on hand/eye coordination and balance.

Ward says she learned many of the exercises through researching health articles, and through her work as administrating coordinator at West Burnside Chiropractic in Portland. The free clinic caters to low-income patients.

'Many of the (class participants) contribute an exercise or two that they have learned from somewhere, someplace,' she says.

Her class seems to enjoy the lessons she's teaching. Peggy Fetters, Ward's aunt, attends the class with her husband of 50 years, Bill.

'I think the older you get, the more you realize your balance isn't good unless you get these muscles going,' she says.

The exercises can also help people stay loose, she says.

'Sometimes, in older people, injuries don't happen because you fall,' she says. 'You just wake up in the morning and your hip doesn't work. Then you start stretching, and it gets stronger and then it gets back to normal.'

On March 28, Fetters brought her grandchildren, Tatiana Askew, 6, and Jeremy James, 11. The children say they enjoyed working out with the older folks.

Tatiana says she likes 'the earth.' When asked to clarify, her grandmother says Tatiana means 'around the world,' an exercise that involves using one's hands to pass a ball all the way around one's torso.

Ward clearly enjoys teaching the class.

'I feel good about the fact that a few of the class members have been motivated to work out more and have lost some weight and are toning,' Ward says. One man has joined a gym, while one woman is attending an exercise class at Mt. Hood Community College, she says.

'If I can motivate anybody to do at least one or two exercises at home, during the week, I'll be happy,' Ward says.

At times, the class takes on a surreal quality, as participants do stretches besides portraits of Jesus, and walk laps around the church's pews. Ward even points out that sometimes she does foot exercises quietly in a pew while listening to Sunday sermons. Although the class is offered in a church, the emphasis is on bodily exercise, Ward says.

'We started the very first class with a prayer,' she says. 'I'm sorry that we don't do this every time, but I am sure that many of us are inwardly praying during or at the end of the class for relief!'

Fetters says she sees divine workings in her workout.

'God expects us to keep our bodies strong,' she says.

If you go

The stretching class meets in the Fireside Room at Powell Valley Covenant Church, 1335 S.E. 282nd Ave., Gresham, on Wednesdays from 7- 8 p.m. The class is open to men and women of all ages from the community. For more information, call the church at 503-663-3013.