Ministry combines fitness, Christ for Mars community

July 10, 2019 Cranberry Local News

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Instructor Heather Gerlach, left, leads an exercise class at the Woodland Valley Church in Mars as part of her ministry. HAROLD AUGHTON/cranberry EAGLE

MARS — Gwen DeVanna fiercely changed from ballet plies to left, then right, hooks.

“The fact that we focus on God always points us to focus on that every night, so it's keeping my mind focused on the right things,” said DeVanna, a Bellevue resident, who has attended this fitness ministry for more than five years. “There's a lot of everything. It's not all the same.”

Twelve attendees danced, kick-boxed and drummed across the Woodland Valley Church gym during Thursday's Be A Light fitness class led by Heather Gerlach, a Revelation Wellness instructor from Mars.

Gerlach has been an instructor for the nonprofit ministry dedicated to educating and inspiring people to live healthy and whole lives in Christ for nearly three years. In addition, she has led fitness ministry for seven years.

“It's my therapy and it's my joy,” Gerlach said about dance.

In her ministry, fitness is used as a tool to spread the Gospel, she said.

“To me, that's letting everyone know that they are valued, that they are worthy, that they are chosen, all the things that the Scripture says that we are,” she said. “It's knowing who we are and whose we are.”

Growing up, Gerlach's mother enrolled her in dance when she was 2, and Gerlach has since danced her whole life.

Gerlach graduated from Slippery Rock University in 2000 with a degree in dance.

Ann Marie DePretis of Mars participates in an exercise class at the Woodland Valley Church in Mars. The class, taught by Heather Gerlach, uses fitness as a tool to spread the Gospel. HAROLD AUGHTON/BUTLER EAGLe

She taught in a dance studio setting for 10 years before she was called to ministry. She also taught Zumba for nine years.

“I just felt like I was being called more into ministry with dance fitness,” she said. “I felt God was calling me away from the studio and into doing my own thing.”

When she left the studio scene, Gerlach began Be A Light fitness, she said. Light was her word for the year.

“It can mean so many different things. It can mean you feel lighter, like things are being lifted off your shoulders. Your schedule can be lighter. You can bring light to situations,” she said. “That's what I like to do.”

Gerlach has ministered for seven years and uses her own music, ranging from hip-hop and Latin to music from popular movies and choreography.

“As I was teaching dance, I was using music that way,” she said. “I was using Christian music, so they had more of an encouraging message.”

Classes begin with Scripture, a devotional or a Bible verse to prepare and focus the mindset of the attendees. She also asks a question that pertains to the day's Scripture and shares how pieces of her personal life relate.

Throughout the class, attendees interact with each other through high fives and pointing to each other, Gerlach said.

“I see you. We are here together; we are going through life together, struggling together, and we are learning how to make it through,” she said. “We like to encourage people to get comfortable being uncomfortable because we get stuck in the safe comfort zone and we can't grow until we take a step out.”

Heather Gerlach instructs a fitness class called Be A Light on Thursdays at the Woodland Valley Church in Mars. She has been part of Revelation Wellness for nearly three years.

At the end of the class, there is a time to be still through breathing and rest, which is a time for healing, she said. The session ends with a group prayer.

The month's theme for Revelation Wellness is awakening, Gerlach said.

People use objects, such as cell phones, movies and eating to numb and distract themselves from what their heart feels, she said.

“What we want to do is ask ourselves for the Lord to reveal that to us what I'm doing (to feel numb) because sometimes you don't even realize it and how can I change that,” she said. “What is the feeling underneath that's causing me to do this numbing out?”

“We just want to find freedom from these things — our fears, our anxieties, the lies we believe about ourselves — that's what we do in here.”

Sometimes people do not think that can happen in an exercise class, Gerlach said.

“When you incorporate your body into it, the Lord can reveal things to you that you couldn't sitting on your couch,” she said.

Listen to the Lord when the world tells you lies about yourself, Gerlach said.

“Otherwise I could fall into the lies of society — That I'm too fat to be a dance instructor, that I'm not smart enough to be leading people,” she said.

If you can march, then you can dance, Gerlach said, adding she has students who cannot speak or move their arms and sit in chairs.

Melanie Stoddart of Mars works out at the Woodland Valley Church in Mars. HAROLD AUGHTON/BUTLER EAGLE

“I want people to know there's a place for them regardless of their level, their need, their background, their age, their shape, their size. Everyone is welcome here,” she said. “I love the joy that we have when we're moving our bodies especially if it's someone who hasn't learned that movement can be that way.”

Kris Fernandez of Evans City returned to class after spending months away with her 18-month-old granddaughter.

“It's the love, heart and energy,” Fernandez said, which is what has kept her attending the ministry for about six years.

Gerlach is a leader of mind, body and spirit, she said.

Judgement does not have a place in the ministry, said the 62-year-old Fernandez. “The spiritual aspect is very important,” she said. “It's a really good thing, positive, positive, positive. It's worth the time and energy.”

Diane Snyder clutched a pair of drumsticks as she whipped them from her left side to her right.

“Her creativity in movement keeps you engaged,” said Snyder about the mix of hand weights and drumsticks in the workouts. “It's easy to follow, but challenging.”

Gerlach is positive, encouraging and offers a fantastic workout, said Snyder, who has attended the fitness ministry for more than five years.

Snyder said she enjoys how Gerlach focuses the class spiritually at the beginning, the periodic reminders and the closing thoughts.

“Heather's a very real person,” she said. “I feel like she's going through the same things she's telling us and living that out and encouraging us.”

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