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.

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5 Responses

  1. Interesting. My church here in Fargo, ND–St. Stephen’s–is an “animal friendly” congregation. One our parishioners, Ron Richard, who was a deeply committed animals-rights person and a vegan, helped our congregation to be more open to the plight of animal cruelty and to be more welcoming to people with animal companions. Ron died very suddenly in June at age 59 and at his Burial Liturgy, his friend and fellow parishioner, Michelle Gelinske, brought her Chihuahua, Mina, who actually cried throughout the service. We don’t usually allow animals at the regualar Mass on Sundays, but often peopel will bring in their animal companions followign the liturgy to coffee hour. We also offer liturgies for animals occasionally throughout the year, I have done burial services for pets and in our Pryaers of the People we pray for all of God’s creatures and for the elimination of undue suffering. This is, of course, in addition to the regular St. Francis blessing in October.

  2. Sarah B says:

    One of our vicars who has in fact now gone to be a university chaplain used to bring her alsatian to church and Zan would lie quietly throughout the service behind the priest’s chair. It was a slight shock occasionally as the dog was so quiet that on going up for commnunion the fact that dog was there was a sudden surprise. I really liked it actually, as a dog owner myself. Other people however found it odd when I took my dog into a church midweek as I was visitng someone there. It was certainly a no-no in the Medieval Church (I think Caesarius of Arles was particularly anti dogs) and I think for some people this has stuck.

  3. Larkin P. says:

    Scott, this also emphasizes the social/psychological dynamic of worship participation. Unless a person has been a ‘newbie’ at a church, it is hard to understand, and we soon forget how hard it is to get courage to walk in to a new situation–especially for singles. “Bring a dog” or even “bring a stuffed animal” allows a person to have something in their hands that they are caring for. It is not in our biology to enjoy being on the submissive end of a relationship. So, I can see how folks enjoy having something along that they are ‘in charge of’. I think the same would apply to parties or social gatherings in general. If you want to have people show up at a party, you ask them to bring spouses/partners/kids/dogs.

  4. James Mackay says:

    I’m the parish organist at Mina’s parish. She sat on my spouse’s lap during the Liturgy of the Word as Michelle was the cantor. She (Mina) watched my feet, and watch Michelle, and licked William’s arm. Not a single bark. Mina has been at the Liturgy before.

    We also have a couple who occasionally bring their little fluff-ball pup, Sam. He’s a hit with everyone, especially one parishoner who is wheel-chair bound.

  5. Doreen Gardner says:

    Another thing about pets, and especially about dogs, is that they are great conversation starters. Talking about a pet would be an easy and relaxing way to begin to get to know people when visiting an unfamiliar church.

    We love bringing our German shepherd Jake to church for a blessing…after all we are his proud “parents”.