Jogging with Mozart

by Floyd Vernon Chandler, EUU member at large

It was during one weekday morning, at Red Hill Universalist Church, when I made the discovery. It is possible to jog four–five miles around the inside of a church sanctuary while listening to Mozart. I think the year was 1999. It was a time when my body could handle an hour of morning jogging.

Years earlier, I had come upon the realization that jogging can be a form of meditation. After 15 or 20 minutes of slow to moderate running, I’d hit my stride. The jogging became a source of pleasure, as my body began releasing endorphins, hormones associated with the runner’s high. Once the endorphins began circulating in my blood stream, I entered a different mental state. Worries departed my thoughts and creative problem-solving often emerged.

Red Hill Universalist Church is located off Highway 421 in North Carolina’s Sampson County. It is farm country. I’d previously tried jogging along Highway 421 or one of the side roads, but the traffic barreling down the highway and side roads kept me too preoccupied. There wasn’t much road shoulder between asphalt and ditch. Jogging did not feel safe. I tried a meandering route around the church yard. The church yard jog worked if the wind direction was favorable. Otherwise, the stench from the nearby hog farms was overwhelming.

It seems I have worked two or more jobs most of my adult life. During eight years of my parish ministry at Red Hill, I worked full-time as a prison chaplain and part-time as an Army Reserve chaplain. I was employed as a chaplain at nearby Pender Correctional Institution, a state penitentiary located near Burgaw, NC. I had a wonderful work shift at Pender. I reported to work at noon and got off at 8:30 p.m. We were docked 30 minutes for mealtime. Prior to my morning drive to the prison, I’d handle church administrative chores and visit church members in the local hospital or nursing homes.

I had established an early morning ritual. After morning coffee, I’d walk from the next-door parsonage to the Red Hill Church. Sitting or standing at the front of the church sanctuary, I’d read a devotional and light one or more votive prayer candles for the deceased and living. Praying for the deceased has made sense to me during most of my adult life. However, reading about the Catholic saint, Padre Pio, and his ministry for souls in Purgatory further strengthened this inclination. I don’t think there is anything magical about votive prayer candles. For me, the lighting of the candle and viewing of the candle flame helps me focus my thoughts and prayers.

After several aborted attempts to jog following morning devotionals at Red Hill, it occurred to me that it might be possible to successfully jog around the inside of the church sanctuary, if I made a few minor adjustments to the corner pews. It worked! By lifting the corner pews and moving them back or forward a couple of feet, I had room to jog an elongated circle.

It was wonderful! It was so private! No one just dropped by the church at 7 o’clock in the morning. After 30 or so laps, the endorphins kicked-in. I began experimenting with my morning ritual. I tried keeping the votive candles lit during the jog. I found that jogging past the candle flames seemed to heighten my thoughts and prayers for the ones for whom the candles were lit.

I had a cassette tape of Mozart that I often listened to on my drives to and from the prison. There was a portable cassette player behind the church pulpit that we sometimes used with Sunday morning worship services. One morning the idea struck, “How might the playing of Mozart add to the morning ritual?”

Wow! The devotional reading! The votive candle flames! The Mozart music! The endorphins! What a beautiful way to begin one’s morning!

After a few weeks, I did have concern about the carpet in the church sanctuary. I took special note of the carpet near the pew corners. After my jog, I’d walk a few laps around the sanctuary and meticulously look for any damage. I never saw any harm to the carpet, but I will be one of the first to donate if I ever hear of a sanctuary carpet fund at the Red Hill Church.

The jogging and Mozart followed me as I returned to active-duty Army chaplaincy. In the Balkans and in Kosovo, I devised ways to jog around the chapel sanctuaries while listening to Mozart. The Army chapels had votive candle stands for the Catholics to use. Devotional reading! Votive candle flames! Mozart music! Endorphins!

During my eleven months in Kosovo, my office was located in the South Chapel of Camp Bondsteel. South Chapel had this elaborate sound system with speakers hanging from the ceiling. When other officers headed to the gym for morning physical training, I’d don my PT uniform and walk over to the chapel. I could put in five miles of chapel jogging, shower, have a quick breakfast in the dining facility, and still make it to my chapel office for work by 9 a.m.

After my chaplain assistant caught me early one morning jogging in the South Chapel, she bought me a Vivaldi CD to supplement the Mozart music. There are no secrets among soldiers when deployed! As weeks passed, seems most everyone knew about the chaplain who jogged in the chapel every morning while listening to classical music!

I miss those days of jogging with Mozart . . . and Vivaldi!

By Floyd Vernon Chandler

(From his book, Ponderings: Reflections on the Stuff of Life. Vernon is a retired Unitarian Universalist minister residing in Ansbach, Germany.)