By Bellah Zulu, ACNS
Anglicans in South Africa are combining getting physically and spiritually fit with reaching out to their local communities.
Fresh expressions of church keep popping up in the Anglican Church of Southern Africa as a "form of church for our changing culture".
One examples is St Francis Xavier Anglican Church (SFX) in Port Elizabeth, South Africa where parishioners started a walking group to evangelise and also to give members from the local community a "sense of belonging".
"The walking group at was born out of a cry for help," said one of the leaders and initiators of the group, the Revd Andrea Potgieter. "This is a cry which we so often hear because of our crazy, stressful, crammed lifestyles."
Andrea Potgieter narrates how it all started: "One of the new members at SFX cried out in October that she desperately needs to exercise to cope with the stresses of the day, get fit and lose a few centimetres."
"The desperate member knew that I have experience of teaching aerobics at a local gym approximately 10 years ago, and asked that I start teaching again offering classes to the local congregation," she said.
At first Andrea refused, but she finally agreed to start a walking group. It began with only six members walking around 3kms but to her surprise the number doubled within a week as more residents from a block of flats situated next to the church joined in. Since then the group has been steadily growing.
"We start each walk with a short prayer asking God’s hand of protection over us as well as blessings into all the homes that we pass during our walk," said Andrea. "Some of the SFX members who joined our group have taken the opportunity to minister to others whilst we walk."
She added: "Our group has positively impacted our waistlines as well as well as the community and is helping with developing leaders in the congregation. This group has also helped many young people in the surrounding community [by giving them] a feeling of belonging."
The group, which comprises people of all ages – from seven to seventy – are acquiring T-shirts to walk in that feature Keep Calm and Trust God on the front and 1 John 1.7 on the back.
The group has also attracted Christians from other denominations and even non-church goers. The number of lapsed members returning to worship services on Sundays has also increased.