Any dogs at your church?
A parishioner at the parish I serve forwarded a link to an article titled, “Any dogs at your church?” She knows that I have two dogs and that I love it when she brings her dog by the office for a visit. One of the highlights of our year as a parish is the first Sunday in October, when we invite people to bring their pets to church for a blessing. On that Sunday, the pets stay for the whole service, delighting us with the accompaniment of bird tweets during the sermon or a hearty “woof” at the end of prayers.
But is one Sunday each year enough?
USA Today recently ran an article about a dog-friendly worship service every Thursday at Underwood Hills Presbyterian Church, Omaha, NE. The weekly “Paws and Prayers” service started in December and currently draws 50-60 people and an estimated 50 dogs. Further, the vast majority of the people who come are not members. In comparison, the 85-member church has an average attendance of 71 for its Sunday morning service.
The article quotes one woman saying, “I hadn’t been to church in many, many years, and this gave me a reason to come back with my friend” — her dog. She told USA Today that hasn’t attended any church regularly since about 1988. “To go to church by yourself is really lonely, and if you bring your dog, you’re not alone,” according to Becky Balestri, the pastor at Underwood Hills.
This strategy wouldn’t be right for every congregation, but perhaps for some congregations this is an ideal way to serve people, to practice hospitality, and to reach out to those would not otherwise come to church. I’m intrigued. People love the once-a-year practice, but would they like this every Sunday? Probably not, but maybe there’s room in the schedule for a midweek pet-friendly service, or a quick prayer service outside on Sunday afternoons, or…?
What say you, readers?
Photo by Matthew Bowen is from October 2007 at Christ Church, Lincoln, RI. You can find this photo and many more of that Sunday on our flickr site.