- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 2, 2003

CLERMONT, Fla. - The sign over the leg-press machine proclaims: “The weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength,” and the stock greeting among employees and clients is a simple “God bless you.”

Over the bench-press machine are the words: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”

Welcome to Lord’s Gym, America’s first Christian fitness-club chain, where members with “His Pain Your Gain” T-shirts use running machines — the Lion of Judah a symbol in the background at this central Florida gym.

Clients work out to Christian rock music against walls painted with biblical frescoes. The club’s logo shows a muscle-bound Christ laboring under a cross bearing the words, “Sins of the world.”

Standing near the elevator, which opens onto a rock representing “the empty tomb where Jesus rose,” club manager Jamie Barkley says he came aboard because, after 10 years in the health-club business, he was fed up with the fashion-over-fitness mind-set.

“The meat-market mentality,” the shaved-headed 39-year-old calls it, with “girls working out with all that makeup and things.

“We have a very modest dress code. We don’t want people with thongs and stuff. Some people want to lose 200 to 250 pounds. … They don’t have to see people half-dressed.”

At Lord’s Gym, sports bras are mandatory, and tight spandex or form-fitting shorts have to be covered by long T-shirts.

“I came for the Christian aspect of it,” says Mr. Barkley, who is married with eight children, five of them adopted.

The 13,000-square-foot club, with commandments written across the walls, has God and Jesus as the dominant theme — in the music, the paintings, as well as little magnetic plaques bearing Scripture that can be stuck on the exercise machines — for inspiration.

For those of the club’s 3,300 members who have church membership, 10 percent of the $34 monthly fee is donated to their congregation.

“We have a Christian ethic,” Mr. Barkley says, “but we don’t force religion down your throat.”

Shelly White, 26, the mother of an 18-month-old boy, says she chose Lord’s Gym “because of the free child care and the Christian atmosphere and the music they play.”

“The employees care about you, they want to know you, they have families themselves,” she says.

“The Christian aspect is a plus, a good motivation. I love the magnets, I love the dress code, it’s not a meat market, you aren’t coming to show off your body. My objective is to stay in shape, stay toned.

“The majority of the people I know are here for the Christian atmosphere,” she says.

Chiropractor Paul Sorchy and his wife, Julie, just bought the franchise in a fast-growing area that is a 20-minute drive west of Orlando. Five more are dotted across Florida, all profit-making, Mr. Barkley says. Ten others in California are nonprofit.

At the Garden of Eden Cafe, fruit juice cocktails include the “tree of life,” “land of milk and honey” and “Josephine’s surprise.”

The drinks come in two sizes: a 20-ounce David and a 24-ounce Goliath.

At the main entrance of the club, Mr. Barkley stands with a New Testament open in front of him as he greets visitors.


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