A Montreal-area church will offer a monthly service for dogs and their owners as part of a pilot project that hopes to spark further debate on the place of animals in society. The first “Paws and Pray” service was held earlier this month at Christ Church Beaurepaire in Beaconsfield to coincide with the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals. Three more monthly services are planned at the Anglican church as part of the pilot project.
Johanne Tasse, president of the Companion Animal Adoption Centre, came up with the idea and said she hopes the concept will spark a debate on the role of animals around us. “Animals deserve our care and respect,” Tass told the Montreal Gazette. “If we can bring dogs to church, how can we turn around and abuse them?””It’s a discussion we need to have in society,” she said.
The service focused on the special bond of companionship between dog and humans and was attended by about 50 worshippers and 30 canines.The dogs ranged from a Chihuahua puppy that could fit in the palm of your hand to a 50-kg-plus bulldog. Most of the pets sat in people’s laps, while the bigger ones stood in the aisles. “It was moving, I got very emotional,” Tasse told The Canadian Press, adding that sometimes, however, dogs will be dogs. “I have to admit it was a bit of a zoo. There was a lot of barking.”
Dogs get biscuits
The minister, Michael Johnson, conducted a one-hour, full communion service, complete with reading from Scripture. While parishioners received a communion wafer, dogs were treated to a selection of freshly baked dog biscuits, including peanut butter and garlic, and bowls of water. Many Anglican churches bless animals once a year, but Johnson said he jumped at the idea when Tasse approached him about trying a monthly service. “My initial thought? ‘This is great,”‘ he said. “Then my second thought was: ‘I better ask the bishop.”‘
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“Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn and attack you.”
Before the fur starts flying, let me state that I have pets and I care for those pets. I am not hereby sanctioning any form of hatred or abuse toward our animal companions. The quote above is not really about dogs … or pigs … but people who act like them. People who see nothing wrong with hijacking the services of God’s house to make a point – any point.
The point may be valid, but it (and the dogs used to make it) don’t belong in church.
It is an alarming trend we see more and more. People coming to view the Services of the Lord’s House as a tool that can (and should) be commandeered for partisan interests. Need to raise awareness of animal rights? Host a service complete with doggie communion! Need to show heavy-metal enthusiasts that they are a valid segment of society? Host a heavy metal mass! Feel the need to redress the wrongs society has committed on any minority? Hold a service of redress and healing! I’m sure that you my readers can come up with literally dozens more examples. (Post ’em below!)
As Christians we should care about how humans treat animals and all of creation. It is part of our rightful stewardship under God. As Christians we should be concerned for all people regardless of musical tastes or social groupings. It is part of the love we have for our neighbours. A love that God first shared with us in Christ.
And that is why such “uses” of the Divine Service are never right. The Divine Service is not some sort of tool to be used … not by us anyway! It is the exclusive tool of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Every single service of the Lord’s House is meant to be a vehicle of grace and forgiveness in this world. It is the place where Jesus comes and Serves His people … serves all people … with the Good News of sins forgiven in His holy death and resurrection. Such forgiveness is never partisan. It is never out to make a point – other than sinners are freely and completely forgiven in the precious blood of Christ!
Any time well-meaning people feel that they can take the Divine Service out of the Divine’s Hands, and use it for some purpose other than pointing to the forgiveness of sins in Christ Jesus, it becomes a mockery of what God designed it to be. It confuses the issues of this world with the one and only place where the certainty of the next world can be found. It confuses and muddles people’s ideas of what the church is all about, and why it is so vitally important. It obscures and belittles the importance of the Word and the Sacraments for the enduring consolation of souls, and hope of everlasting life. And this forgiveness of sins … this hope in Christ … is simply too important to let go to the dogs!