Read Dr. Ray Howell’s column describing the J. Smith Young as the Heartbeat of Lexington

Where would you think the heart of our fair city is found? Is it the Square with the monuments and the majestic Old Courthouse? Is it the business district with charming old buildings and inviting shops? Or would you say the heart of our city is found in our spiritual homes, our churches? Considering the fact that I am a preacher and this is a religion column, you know my answer. And if the churches are the heart of our city, where is the heartbeat?

Five of our downtown churches are clustered together between Third and Fifth avenues. Nestled between these churches you will find one of the greatest blessings in our town — the J. Smith Young YMCA. If our churches are the heart, the YMCA is the heartbeat — both symbolically and in many cases, quite literally.

I love the YMCA. When I first moved to town I felt like God was trying to tell me something by placing the YMCA right next door to my church. Even today when I pull into our parking lot and see that great old gymnasium, I feel a tinge of guilt if I haven’t taken time to work out at the Y in a while. Well, it’s more than a tinge — it’s a slap in the face. “There it is! All you have to do is get off your (insert King James word for donkey) and walk across the street and do something about it!” I get the message!

Our Y is unique in many ways. We have a huge gymnasium that used to host college basketball tournaments, Saturday night “wrastling,” and Elvis! There is the vintage bowling alley, the food services, a beautiful event center that serves as a community gathering place, and what’s not to love about our world class natatorium named in memory of a true hometown hero, Josh Harris. We also have first-class fitness equipment and a dedicated and trained staff eager to help us keep our heartbeats strong and sure.

But the Y is so much more. When Gene Klump became the CEO he said he wanted to emphasize the C in YMCA. First and foremost, the Y is a Christian organization. There is a beautiful chapel when you walk into the front door, a prayer request board downstairs, an inspirational thought of the day, an annual prayer breakfast, and one of the highlights of my week is the men’s Bible Study that meets every Thursday morning at 7 a.m.

I see the Y as an extension of our church’s ministry. The Y provides many different programs for children and youth — after-school programs, summer day camps, teen programs, and leadership development. No one is denied access because of financial hardship. Scholarships are available thanks to the generosity of local citizens and the United Way of Davidson County.

 The Y enables us as individuals to keep ourselves physically fit. Physical fitness is a spiritual discipline. Our body is a gift from God and we have a sacred responsibility to keep our body healthy so that we can serve God with all of our heart, mind, and strength!

Our community is a much healthier one because of the Y, and not just in the physical sense. The Y provides the heartbeat, bringing diverse people together in community, touching the lives of children and young people, giving senior citizens the resources to stay active, and encouraging all of us to be the best God has called us to be, as we build healthy spirits, minds, and bodies. And through our support and involvement in the Y, we help maintain this remarkable facility for everyone in our community to enjoy.

God bless the YMCA — the heartbeat of our community.

 

The Rev. Dr. Ray Howell III is senior minister at First Baptist Church on West Third Avenue.