Yoga Chapel

October 1st, 2017

Yoga Chapel was started by Bethel Lee, a pastor in The United Church of Canada. Bethel spent three years in the books at Duke Divinity School, studying to be a pastor and practicing her faith in her head. One summer she was able to practice her faith with her hands at a L’Arche community in Canada, which required incredible physical strength as she lifted community members out of chairs and walked with them through life. Bethel created Yoga Chapel to combine the practice of faith between her head and her hands. In Canada, Yoga Chapel took the shape of Christian discipleship and formation for existing congregations. Over the past four years Bethel has expanded the online reach of Yoga Chapel by offering online courses as well as meaningful podcasts for all followers. The intent of Yoga Chapel online or in person is to “weave together the art of Christian storytelling with the wisdom of the yoga practice.”

I became familiar with yoga after a good friend passed away. I couldn’t find words to pray and felt I had no way to release the emotions that welled inside of me. I had been going to a yoga class for a month. One day the teacher invited us to breathe in and out deeply and even to pray, if we were praying people. He invited us to continue our prayers for the duration of the class. At the end of the class I was finally able to cry about my friend’s passing. Somehow the practice of prayer and yoga together opened up my heart and mind in a way for God to enter in and work on me. So I kept going to yoga, and it became an incredible form of prayer for me. Soon after, I signed up for a teacher training. I began to weave scripture into my classes for teacher training. My yoga teacher grew up in a Jewish home and earned an MA in Religion from the University of Pennsylvania. He encouraged the intersection of faith and practice, and other participants loved it, as well.

Yoga Chapel weaves together the art of Christian storytelling with the wisdom of the yoga practice.

I started yoga classes at my first church in Florida City, and I weaved scripture into our practice. To my surprise, many participants came who did not come to Sunday service, because their schedules interfered or they were not familiar with church. Next I was appointed at a downtown church and started Yoga Chapel services on Wednesday afternoons. Many of the students who came to yoga class were not members or attenders at First UMC in Miami. Yet within three months they started calling it “my church” and started calling me “my pastor.” Gradually, an alternative faith community, or a fresh expression of church, was birthed. Young people who grew up Catholic but had not gone to church in years were beginning to find a formal way to connect with God and community. More and more young people downtown are finding their way to Yoga Chapel, to set aside a piece of their day to simply sit and de-stress.

As a yoga chaplain and pastor, I find that Yoga Chapel is one of the most meaningful parts of my job. I am often called to fix stoves, balance budgets, and deal with the latest downtown crisis. So Yoga Chapel also offers me time to sit with scripture in a special way and listen to the simple message God is speaking to me that I might share with participants in our time together. The preparation for Yoga Chapel is different than preparation for a sermon, since I am looking for one simple spiritual nugget to share rather than trying to weave a lectionary text into a sermon series with an agenda of some sort that works for the overall mission of the church and speaks to world events.

Those who find their way to Yoga Chapel and me, their yoga chaplain, find our time together to be sacred time with each other and God! We hope in the coming years to work toward a missional focus with our homeless ministry. We have also begun to think about breakout small groups that focus on different topics that deal with current events and theology. Yet for now, and maybe forever, we are enjoying the simplicity of gathering once a week, getting our butts on the mat, and opening our hearts, hands, and heads to the good news that God has to share with us for that day!

For leaders reluctant to consider yoga, the editors also recommend the Christian practices available in the book by Amy G. Oden, Right Here, Right Now: The Practice of Christian Mindfulness (Abingdon Press, 2017).

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