The intersection of faith and fitness

By SARA ARTHURS
Staff Writer
What do physical fitness and the Christian faith have to do with each other? An area pastor hopes to answer that question by bringing two pastors who were former “Biggest Loser” contestants to Findlay to talk about how faith and fitness intersect.
The Rev. Scott Tinman, pastor of student ministries at Findlay Evangelical Free Church, met the contestants, the Revs. Allen “Buddy” Shuh of Wayne, Mich., and Mark Cornelison of Houston, through a youth ministry connection and invited them to Findlay.
Shuh and Cornelison will help Findlay Evangelical Free Church host “Fit to Serve,” a program on diet, nutrition and spiritual fitness created by Shuh and Cornelison. A kickoff event will be held Saturday at the church, 2515 Heatherwood Drive. Doors will open at 8:30 a.m. with a program from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Program sessions will take place every Saturday for six weeks.
Shuh and Cornelison will speak at the kickoff.
Shuh, 44, is a nondenominational Christian pastor. Cornelison, 45, was ordained in the Baptist church but has also served in nondenominational churches. They were roommates, along with Shuh’s brother and Cornelison’s son, on season 13 of the weight-loss reality show which aired from January through May 2012. Shuh lost 175 pounds and Cornelison 101 pounds.
Shuh said for a long time churches have addressed health issues, like smoking, but overeating gets left out of the discussion.
“It was almost like OK for a pastor to stand up there and say you shouldn’t smoke but he could be obese,” he said.
Shuh said he prayed before the show, telling God, “I think you want me to be healthy and I’m kind of not doing a good job at it.”
“I was really obese and I knew I wasn’t going to be around in 25 years to walk my daughters down the aisle,” he said.
He tried out for the show with his brother and said getting accepted was a lengthy process. Only 12 to 20 contestants are chosen out of thousands of applicants.
He said the show brought him many interesting experiences ,including a trip to Hawaii and traveling to the White House to meet and work out with first lady Michelle Obama.
Cornelison had always struggled with his weight and by the time he was on the show he was 43, weighed around 300 pounds, was taking four different medications and “just didn’t feel good.”
He found the exercise on “The Biggest Loser” “very intense,” with workouts six to eight hours a day. A nutritionist would talk to the contestants about meals.
Today, people come to Cornelison and Shuh for help and support on “something that has been a lifelong struggle for us.” Now on the other side of that struggle, Cornelison said, he is seeing what God can do in a person’s life.
The two have presented at churches in Texas, California and Michigan. They named their program “Fit to Serve” because it isn’t about trying to lose weight for vanity’s sake, but to have the healthiest body possible so they can do whatever God calls them to do.
There isn’t often a connection made between Christian faith and health but “Scripture’s very, very clear” that our body “is a temple” and was made by God, Cornelison said.
“Our bodies are very important,” he said.
Cornelison said it wasn’t until after he was on the show that he realized “how self-conscious I really was” about his weight and how that limited him socially. Today he is more confident and more comfortable with people.
Shuh said since losing weight he can do things that he couldn’t before, such as traveling. Before, he had a 64-inch waist “so getting on a plane and having a seat belt fit was not an option.” He said being healthier also makes him a better dad.
Shuh said people may take hope in the fact that he has been able to keep off the 175 pounds he lost, meaning that if he can do it maybe they can too.
He believes that faith and fitness intersect and if someone is “fully engaged with a relationship with God” then God will help them to live a productive and healthy life.
The message, Shuh said, is to “stick with things” and not give up. He leads a health program called “Buddy Up” in Michigan and strives to take what he learned on the show and “pay it forward.”
“I think some things have completely shifted in my thinking and are no longer even a struggle,” Shuh said.
Other things are a challenge. For example, while on the ranch of “The Biggest Loser” he had access to fresh organic food but learned when he went home that it was more expensive. He said the show was an “isolated bubble” with participants living on the ranch for almost half a year, out of contact with family.
Since both Shuh and Cornelison are pastors, they decided to meet to pray together on Sundays when there were no cameras.
“We called it ‘Blurch’ for ‘Biggest Loser Church,’” Shuh said.
Over time other contestants would join them. Cornelison and Shuh baptized two fellow contestants in a pool at the ranch.
Tinman said many “Biggest Loser” contestants go on to gain back the weight they lost. He said it needs to be a long-term lifestyle change and there is a spiritual aspect to this.
“There is a spiritual fitness, an emotional fitness,” he said.
Fit to Serve is open to everyone and Tinman has encouraged church members to bring friends and neighbors who might not be church members.
“For us, it’s about building relationships with people,” he said.
Findlay’s program will conclude May 3 with a 5-kilometer or 1-mile walk/run.
Each week there will be a “Body Fit,” “Food Fit” and “Soul Fit” component.
Shari Hart, a member of the church’s praise team and owner of Core Fitness, will speak and a different exercise professional will be featured each week. Participants will be divided into two groups with half getting an exercise lesson and half a nutrition lesson, after which they will switch places. Nutritionists will talk about healthy food choices and portion sizes. They will give recipes and the participants will get to taste the foods.
Hart said the exercise professionals will also expose the participants to different types of exercise. The hope is to emphasize not just exercise and food but a relationship with God. So, Tinman said, each week there will be a Bible verse discussed, and participants will pray together.
Hart said the hope is that participants will make a “lifestyle change” in all three areas: food, physical fitness and spiritual fitness.
“It really is about making a lifestyle change for the long haul,” she said.
In addition to speaking at the kickoff, Shuh and Cornelison will share their story at both of Findlay Evangelical Free Church’s services Sunday.
Fit to Serve is open to all fitness levels and all ages, including children. However, child care will not be provided.
More information is available, and registration can be made, at the church’s website at findlayefree.com. Advance registration, while appreciated, is not required. Tinman said Fit to Serve will be accepting participants throughout the program so even if someone misses the first week but wants to join in during the second week, they will not be turned away.
The church is offering the program as a community outreach and there is no cost to participate.
Arthurs: 419-427-8494 Send an E-mail to Sara Arthurs

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