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When a house of God becomes a house of Dog

Here is the church. Here is the steeple. Open the doors and see all the … dogs?

A handful of churches have found a new way to fill empty pews, catching on to what a lot of hotels and other business establishments have already figured out: When you let people bring their dogs, you get more people.

A recent USA Today article looked at a dog-friendly church service in Omaha at the Underwood Hills Presbyterian Church — one where some dogs took seats on the pews, others sprawled on the floor and a few seemed intent on being social. But all eventually settled down for the sermon.

“Just relax,” the Rev. Becky Balestri, 51, said to open the service. “It’s like having kids in church.”

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

“I hadn’t been to church in many, many years, and this gave me a reason to come back with my friend,” said one churchgoer who hadn’t attended church regularly since about 1988.

On a recent Thursday, the church drew it’s largest “Paws and Prayers” service yet — 57 people and around 50 dogs. When the offering plate was passed, people place their gifts inside and take squares of cheese for the dogs.

Rev. Balestri says she hopes to welcome back people who haven’t attended church in years. “To go to church by yourself is really lonely, and if you bring your dog, you’re not alone,” she said.

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 said. The dog-friendly service began in December.

According to the USA Today article, the Church of the Holy Trinity, an Episcopal congregation In New York City, usually has a few dogs in the main Sunday service and dogs are welcome at other services.

And 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., said the Rev. Rachel Bickford. The services began in September. “I thought this would be a wonderful way to bring some joy back into the community,” she said. “It’s been terrific.”


Comment from tsg
Time April 3, 2009 at 9:51 am

Perhaps it’s the melancholy mood I am in this lazy Friday morning. Or the little prayers I have been sending for a beautiful 8 mos rascal who needs a home (and will hopefully mine) that I have been walking each day and am missing while out of town – but this story provokes me to want to attend again after a 20+ year lapse. Maybe Baltimore will catch on — this is a wonderful idea, especially at a time when faith is running low due to the constant reminders of our economy. No doubt our current dog would enjoy going to church, especially if it means socializing AND treats =^..^=

Comment from Anne-n-Spencer
Time April 3, 2009 at 12:57 pm

I think this is a pretty good idea. Of course I think that dogs should be welcome at “regular” church on Sunday morning, as long as they behave properly. Our church, Memorial Episcopal, has a resident cat. Her name is Sophia, which means Wisdom, and she certainly lives up to that. She’s ordinarily asked to remain in other parts of the church during Sunday worship, but she puts in an occasional appearance anyway. She also maintains a prayer list for animals and (I believe) serves when asked as a wise counsellor to the clergy. This is my favorite picture of Sophia–taken as she paid a visit to the Christmas creche:

Comment from Rebecca
Time August 9, 2009 at 5:59 pm

what a fabulous idea – bringing the ENTIRE family to church.

Comment from FriendlyDogStoreGuy
Time September 24, 2009 at 11:06 pm

I agree. This is a really terrific idea. There seems like we are all becoming a little more “pet friendly” these days. Its nice to see that the church is helping to pave the way!