Question: How do you feel about members attending church with their pets? It’s an issue that challenges me.
RESPONSE 1: TAD BLAKE-WEBER
First let me say I can empathize somewhat with your sentiment of having pets at church. I haven’t actually experienced a service where an animal was present. So, I must admit I would be surprised to see a pooch in a pew.
On the other hand, to me, church is a place of inclusion. Often people come to church holding on to something not as blatant (or as cute!)—fear about money, addiction, illness, or anxiety. And some churchgoers may act differently than we would like. For instance, I’ve seen fellow churchgoers dozing during a service. But I’ve been learning that because God is divine Love, I can trust everyone is in tune with the intelligence of divine Mind. No matter what they bring with them, how they act, or even if they’re asleep, God is their Father-Mother Love, too. And Love is guiding everyone to a complete understanding of the Christ and divine Science.
That is one reason I love the first two words of the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father.” Right there, that statement makes me yield to divine Love’s view of people. Those two words encourage me to honor obvious and unseen differences. They keep judgmental thoughts from taking root in my thinking.
The concept of “our Father” makes me reach out to all who walk through the church doors—whether they walk in with a well-behaved pet or were outside smoking a cigarette before walking into the church. Through the love of God and our fellow congregants, we can all reach out to whoever shows up at a service. No material element can keep us from loving all of God’s children.
However, if a pet is unduly distracting from the service, we can listen for the right opportunity to speak to the individual in a kind, compassionate manner, letting them know of other options that can benefit the individual and their pet. Just as we would in other healing ways, we can all be alert to divine Love’s ideas that meet our church friend’s needs and bless all.
RESPONSE 2: MANYA KASEROFF-SMITH
One Wednesday evening I walked into my branch church and was startled to see some very soulful, long-lashed brown eyes looking at me. They belonged to a gorgeous, full-sized chocolate poodle. He sat quietly in the aisle by his owner, and I slipped into the pew behind them. Then I lost thought of them both as I listened to the readings and testimonies.
On the way home I was bemused, considering why someone would bring their dog to church! This was about 15 years ago, and I marvel that I didn’t get the point then. We had been working and praying to make our Wednesday meetings more informal and friendly, and here was the first response to those prayers—a dog in church. It may not have been the eager newcomers we envisioned, but it set a relaxed tone for the service that I still cherish. And the dog in church conveyed the message “All are welcome, all are accepted” better than any sign posted outside. The visual message was of the Christ-love alive in church, embracing every attendee right where he or she is, and their dog, too.
Is it disrespectful to bring a dog? Is it a distraction? I think we’d agree that we don’t necessarily have to bring a pet to church to find distractions aplenty. Distractions can be found in a personal view of how the ushers didn’t greet people to the way they did. Or found in the music or in the way the Readers read. The challenge, and joy, is to silence these mental arguments of the carnal mind before they fossilize our reasons for attending. We go to church to worship God together, to unite in love for and with divine Love; to acknowledge that “our Father” really means the Creator is Father-Mother to all—including in this instance His four-pawed and multi-legged, as well as two-legged, expressions. Isn’t our deep, prayerful desire one of knowing this so clearly that it heals?
A hymn says so gently, “Quiet, Lord, my froward heart,” and a line from the first verse petitions us to be “pleased with all that pleaseth Thee” (John Newton, Christian Science Hymnal, No. 291). Silencing personal sense allows divine Love to reign in our heart and our sightline. Then, no matter what our church visitors look like, even if they wag their tail, we are at peace.
Tad Blake-Weber is a Christian Science practitioner from Waltham, Massachusetts.
Manya Kaseroff-Smith is a practitioner and teacher of Christian Science in Sunnyvale, California.
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