You have to read this--pets & humans at church

Discussion in 'Spirituality/Worship' started by TwoCatDoctors, Apr 16, 2009.

  1. TwoCatDoctors

    TwoCatDoctors New Member

    The Service Has Gone to the Dogs
    April 13, 2009 : 5:06 PM
    Unique sermon has congregation howling with praise

    Animals and religion have intrigued the faithful for hundreds and hundreds of years. It seems everyone has an opinion about what animals ‘mean’ and can quote their favorite verse from their holy book to prove their point. Religion seemed to be more ‘about’ animals rather than ‘for’ them. That’s changing for a group of pet lovers in Omaha!

    The Underwood Hills Presbyterian Church is now hosting Thursday masses that are opened up to pets and the people that love them. They encourage their whole flock to show up and join in on the serious message and maybe some fun.

    This new service is truly a reason to celebrate. To read more about this incredible story – click here for the USA Today article [I POSTED THAT ARTICLE BELOW FROM USA TODAY].

    posted by Denise LeBeau, Best Friends staff
    image by Clay Myers, Best Friends photographer

    Church services put paws in the pews
    Updated 3/31/2009 11:25 AM
    Pastor Becky Balestri welcomes people and their pets to Underwood Hills Presbyterian Church in Omaha. "It's like having kids in church," she says.
    By Chris Machian, for USA TODAY

    Pastor Becky Balestri welcomes people and their pets to Underwood Hills Presbyterian Church in Omaha. "It's like having kids in church," she says.

    By Jeff Martin, USA TODAY
    OMAHA — As they enter the church, they yip, they lick and they sniff the tail ends of their fellow parishioners. An occasional woof interrupts the piano notes wafting through the sanctuary.

    But this is a forgiving audience.

    It is full of dog lovers, mostly, who gather every Thursday to worship at Underwood Hills Presbyterian Church.

    FAITH & REASON: One dog who's never going to church

    Usher Val Poulton and her Doberman, Sirius, are there to greet worshipers and ask, "Do you need a rug?"

    "I hadn't been to church in many, many years, and this gave me a reason to come back with my friend," says Poulton, 51. She hasn't attended any church regularly since about 1988, she says.

    Some dogs take seats on pews and sit upright. Others lie on the floor. Some prefer spots under the pews. Zulu, a large Doberman/Lab mix, tries to make friends across the aisle.

    "Just relax," the Rev. Becky Balestri, 51, says to open the service. "It's like having kids in church."

    Always room 'in the kingdom'

    The dogs calm down once the service begins, and the yipping and the yapping subside.

    Some latecomers arrive, and Balestri is welcoming. "Come on up front. There's room in the second row because in the kingdom of God, the last are first," she says with a broad smile.

    At least two other U.S. churches, in New York and near Boston, also allow dogs at regular weekly services.

    On this night in Omaha, a recent Thursday in March, Balestri is preaching to the largest crowd to attend the weekly "Paws and Prayers" service since it began in December. There are 57 people, and an estimated 50 dogs.

    Of the 57, about 45 are not members, Balestri says later. (The 85-member church has an average attendance of 71 for its Sunday morning service, she says.)

    Kris Graulich of Omaha and Austin, her Jack Russell/Chihuahua, are first-time visitors. Austin, one of the smaller dogs here, tilts his head slightly as he listens to Balestri speak about forgiveness. Austin is "my best friend," Graulich says.

    Parishioners request prayers for homeless animals and homeless people. One man requests prayers for a deceased pet who "went over the rainbow." There are prayer requests for people, as well.

    When the offering plate is passed, people place their gifts inside and take squares of cheese for the dogs. "You feel good when you leave," says Pam Weiss, with Baxter, a Pomeranian mix.

    Afterward, Balestri says she hopes to welcome back people who haven't attended church in years. Some may feel alone.

    "To go to church by yourself is really lonely, and if you bring your dog, you're not alone," she says.

    Such services are not for every congregation, she acknowledges. For Underwood Hills, though, it seems to be working, and no one has complained to her about the service so far, she says.

    Balestri describes it as "some kind of mix of ministry, mission, outreach, evangelism."

    For Jo Ann Smith, 56, of Omaha, it was a blessing.

    Her story is heartbreaking: "We put our dog down the day after we buried our son."

    That was a year ago, after Brian Smith, 21, a University of Nebraska student, died while on a trip to Puerto Rico. He had a deformed artery, a condition no one knew about, and had a massive heart attack, she says.

    Her arthritic older dog collapsed in the kitchen as the family grieved, and had to be put down after Brian's funeral.

    Then, Smith decided to attend a December service at Underwood Hills, where Balestri and Judy Varner were greeting people. They said "Where's your dog?" Smith recalls. Then, "just out of the clear blue sky, it all fell into place."

    Varner, president and CEO of the Nebraska Humane Society, had a border collie in her van. When Smith met the dog, her spirits lifted. She brought the collie home the next day.

    "I'm a firm believer that the hand of God appears in our lives from time to time, and that was one of those times," Varner says.

    The idea for the Omaha service was born late last year from a focus group of about five people, who were asked whether they would attend a church service where dogs are allowed. They said yes. "Judy Varner got wind of it, and said, 'When are you going to start?' " Balestri recalls.

    Underwood Hills already had an annual "blessing of the animals," as many churches do, but having a regular, weekly service for dogs and their owners was uncharted territory, Balestri says.

    In New York City, it is common to have a couple of dogs — perhaps a few more — in the main Sunday worship service at Church of the Holy Trinity, an Episcopal congregation, and dogs are welcome at other services, says the Rev. Michael Phillips, the church rector.

    "It's been a custom of this parish for, I would say, at least 10 years, if not more," Phillips says. "For many people in Manhattan who live by themselves, by choice or not, 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."

    Dog Chapel atop a mountain

    In Vermont, artist Stephen Huneck built Dog Chapel atop a mountain near St. Johnsbury. The chapel doesn't have regular services, but Huneck says visitors are welcome. People have covered the walls with photos of deceased dogs since the chapel opened in 2000. "Dogs have a soul and they're part of our family," he says.

    About 20 to 50 dogs typically show up for the "Woof and Worship" service at 5 p.m. every Sunday at Pilgrim Congregational Church in the Boston suburb of Weymouth, Mass., says the Rev. Rachel Bickford. The services began in September, she adds. "I thought this would be a wonderful way to bring some joy back into the community," she says. "It's been terrific."

    Christians "come together to worship God," says Norma Cook Everist, a professor at Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa. "We worship a God who is the God of all creation."

    Cook Everist says all congregations need to work at making church "a place where people with varied interests and concerns feel welcome." The Omaha church, she says, "evidently is meeting the needs of some of these people."

    Now, Balestri is considering a field trip for the church dogs. Owners could perhaps take them to a nursing home in the area, to lift the spirits of people there.

    Smith and Jaeger, the border collie she met in Varner's van, are up for that idea.

    "I would like to use Jaeger in some way as a catalyst to comfort people," Smith says. "Let him help somebody else who maybe is going through a hard time."

    Jeff Martin reports for the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls, S.D.

  2. gapsych

    gapsych New Member

    I have a friend who goes to a church where they have a service where people can bring their pets. I can't think of what Church it is.

    They also have pets from the Humane Society that are up for adoption, in the Lobby after the services.

  3. Sacajawea2

    Sacajawea2 Member

    Now twocats, what do the cats think of this???

    Lol, at our hall for a while a lady brought her dog to services...the dog couldn't be left alone because of abuse issues and came for awhile, until the owner felt safe to leave her at home. It was so sweet. We cooed over her like a baby and she was never disruptive.

    And then of course, there is someone who attends occasionally who has a seeing eye dog, a yellow lab, who it really seems, is listening...but this is a nice idea for those who really need to bring pets.

  4. TwoCatDoctors

    TwoCatDoctors New Member

    As long as they can remain in the scooter basket one cat at a time would go and wouldn't mind. Yesterday someone brought their dog to the local Depression Support Group Meeting and Shelby was in the scooter basket and didn't care at all--everyone at the meeting was waiting to see how she would react. Shelby said, "I don't care one way or another about dogs."

    When I saw the articles, I thought what a wonderful idea for people who had fear to go to church and it can be overwhelming for some, and bringing a pet friend wouldn't seem like going alone. The articles gave me such a smile and a good feeling that worship was opened like this.

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