I’ll never forget when I first started attending Grace North Church. Francora, one of our older parishioners, was sitting in the pew, and alongside her was her dog, sitting up straight, and stock-still, watching everything. I thought it was great…if eccentric. Then one Sunday I noticed that another of the parishioners fed the dog half of his communion bread on the way back to his pew.
I didn’t know whether to be outraged or fall over laughing. I chose to laugh, and I haven’t been sorry. Ever since, we have been a church where dogs are not only welcome, but are referred to as “canine parishioners” and afforded pretty much full rights—excepting the right to vote at parish meetings. We have done requiem masses for pets who have passed on, we pray for them in worship, and as pastor I visit them and anoint them when they’re sick, just like any other parishioner.
I no longer think it’s eccentric. It is, in fact, a simple recognition of the fact that our pets are not expendable hangers-on, but beloved members of our families. Further, we recognize that animals matter to God, and are loved by God. Finally, to care for animals in such a way reminds us that we are not the center of the universe, that in fact, we share this world with countless species, all of whom matter, all of whom are worthy of our respect and care.
Dogs are most visible in our community, of course, and you will find them in attendance at almost every service. Cats are theoretically welcome—but they’re rarely as interested in the social aspects of worship as dogs are. But the one day that we pull out all the stops and encourage everyone to bring their non-human family members to church is the Feast of St. Francis.
In the past we’ve had dogs, cats (always in a carrier, please), gerbils, hamsters, parrots, and even a llama! Things rarely get that exotic, however. But regardless of who shows up, we pray for them, bless them, and celebrate the essential place they have in our lives.
Sometimes I think pets love church more than people do. Why not bring your pet and see if he or she agrees? We celebrate the Feast of St. Francis at 5pm on October 6th. Hope to see you there!