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Christianity Gone to the Dogs

Every Sunday at 5 p.m., Pilgrim Congregational Church in North Weymouth, Massachusetts, opens its doors for a special pet worship service called “Woof ‘n Worship.” There, dog owners can attend church together with their four-legged companions and be led in prayers such as, “Dear Lord, please make me the person my dog thinks I am.” In the event of any accidents during the service, the church equipped its sanctuary with “doggy clean-up stations.” The initial Woof ‘n Worship included a special blessing of the animals. Pastor Rachel Bickford explained that she prayed about opening services to dogs before deciding that “it would be just so much fun.”1

Unfortunately, including dogs in worship services is part of a larger pattern—spending more time relating to critters than to God. This is a society where the canine companions of Martha Stewart have their own blog,2 and many Walmarts stock an extensive collection of pet clothes.

More than 500 American churches have performed blessings for animals, and at least half a dozen hold services for them.3 One such congregation is Los Angeles’s Covenant Presbyterian Church, where interim pastor Tom Eggebeen conducts a weekly 30-minute service for dogs and their owners. It includes individual doggie beds, bowls of water, prayer requests for the animals, and even a way for them to participate in the offering—as ushers collect donations, they also pass out rainbow-colored dog biscuits. At one service, they used the hymn, “GoD and DoG,” but as an Associated Press reporter observed, “The pooches who showed up at Covenant Presbyterian on Sunday didn’t seem very interested in dogma.”4

Chicago’s Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd picks up the theme with a summertime “dog walker” service, which allows pet owners to pause at the church for prayer during Sunday morning walks. On one Sunday, Pastor Mary Appelt-Graves led worshipers in a “Dog Psalm” by Herbert Brokering entitled “I Growl.”5

Laura Hobgood-Oster, an expert on animals and Christianity, noted that, though followers of Jesus have traditionally believed only humans have redeemable souls, the new wave of pet-inclusive services may have opened the door to reassessment. “It’s the changing family structure, where pets are really central and religious communities are starting to recognize that people need various kinds of rituals that include their pets,” she said. “More and more people in mainline Christianity are considering them to have some kind of soul.”6

Referring to Covenant Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Albert Mohler has observed, “Churches concerned with the preaching of the Gospel, committed to authentic evangelism and biblical preaching, are not going to demonstrate the confusion that leads to ‘Canines at Covenant.’”7 This is not to say that Mohler dislikes pets; in fact, he is very fond of his beagle, Baxter. “But Baxter does not go to church.” And neither should Spot, Tabby, and Tweety.

Footnotes:
1 Johanna Seltz, “Welcoming Dogs to Church Service: Weymouth Church Welcoming Dogs, and Their Owners, to Services,” Boston Globe Website, October 5, 2008, http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2008/10/05/welcoming_dogs_to_church_service?mode=PF (accessed January 4, 2010).
2 See Martha Stewart Website, http://www.marthastewart.com/pets (accessed January 4, 2010) on both the book and the blog.
3 Gillian Flaccus, “Gone to the Dogs: LA Church Starts Pet Service,” Breitbart Website, November 4, 2009, http://www.breitbart.com/article.php?id=D9BONI100&show_article=1 (accessed January 4, 2010).
4 Ibid.
5 Victoria Lim, “Dogs Go To Sunday School in ‘Paws for Prayer,’” Petfinder Website, August 3, 2008, http://www.petfinder.com/pet-news/dogs-go-to-sunday-school-in-paws-for-prayer.html (accessed January 4, 2010).
6 Flaccus, “Gone to the Dogs: LA Church Starts Pet Service.”
7 Albert Mohler, “NewsNote: Woof ‘n Worship? Seriously?” Albert Mohler Website, November 13, 2009, http://www.albertmohler.com/2009/11/13/newsnote-woof-n-worship-seriously/ (accessed January 4, 2010).

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