Paws and Prayers: Bringing Your Dog to Church
The dogs enter sniffing about, wagging their tails, and staying close to their owners, with the sound of woofs and yips filling the air. Which place am I describing? It’s not a doggie park, veterinarian’s office, or nature trail. It's a church!
That’s right, church.
More congregations than ever before are including dog services on a regular basis and many more have experimented with the concept or have an annual or monthly service catering to dogs and dog lovers.
In Omaho, Nebraska, Underwood Hills Presbyterian Church has introduced a dog service every Thursday night. The congregation’s reverend, Becky Balestri, fully supports the weekly doggie service and compares it to bringing children to church. Rev. Balestri has also noticed many faces she has never seen before.
On the most recent Dog Church service, about 57 people showed up with 45 attendees not members of Underwood Hills meaning the dog-friendly sermons are drawing in community members who don’t usually attend church.
Rev. Balestri sums up the dog services as "some kind of mix of ministry, mission, outreach, evangelism."
In New York City, the main worship service every week at Church of the Holy Trinity includes a handful of dogs, a tradition that has been going on for over a decade, according to Rev. Michael Phillips, who makes a great point:
“For many people in Manhattan who live by themselves . . . it’s remarkably easy to feel isolated and alone in a city with this many people . . . When they come to church, they want to bring their family.”
And in this case, family for many congregational members is just their snuggly pooches and puppies.
In the Boston suburb of Weymouth, Pilgrim Congregational Church as a “Woof and Worship” service every Sunday, where 20 to 50 dogs and their owners typically attend. Rev. Rachel Bickford says the dog services have been going on for about half a year, and are
“a wonderful way to bring some joy back into the community.”
St. Johnsbury in Vermont has a slightly different take on doggie services. While they do not have services where dogs may attend, they do have a nearby Dog Chapel (pictured below), constructed by a local artist. The Dog Chapel is always welcome to dogs and their owners, and is covered with photos of deceased dogs submitted by local owners. The Dog Chapel has been around since 2000, and attracts a steady flow of visitors every week.
Most churches that include dogs in their services have a few rules, usually being that dogs must be leashed, be accompanied by their owner and not left alone, and they must be friendly toward other canines.
Personally, I think this is a great idea, and will encourage people to attend a service, who may otherwise not. It is a great opportunity for outreach and inclusion, that hopefully will be embraced by more and more congregations.
What do you think? Would you bring your dog to a church service? (I know I would!)