The Day the Dog Came to Church
The other Sunday, the local Baptists had their annual outdoor service and church picnic at the Fraternal Order of Eagles (F.O.E.) park. The Fraternal Order of Eagles are a civic organisation – really. It's not a front for anything. Their park is very nice. The outdoor service was combined with the Sunday School promotion day, which is why elsewhere in this issue of the h2g2 Post, you will see a surreal photograph with soap bubbles. I couldn't resist. The kids had a lot of fun marking their passage into the next-higher Sunday School class.
The adults had a great time eating. Oh, and singing, praying, and listening to preaching. Of course. But the food was really good….
That photo is of the stage setup before the service began. It's a clever thing that utilises the technology this farm community is most familiar with: the truck. After the service, it could be driven away quickly to allow access to the food. Very efficient, and the pianist knocked some lively old-time songs out on her portable keyboard. It is true that the amplifier had a loose spring, which caused some interesting reverb effects, but that merely added to the ambience.
On Sunday morning, I said to an unhappy Lola the Doglet, 'I'm sorry, but you can't come. They don't allow dogs in the park, and they certainly don't allow dogs at church.'
Elektra laughed. 'No, they don't. They even had a meeting about it.' Elektra was referring to the mini-crisis caused a couple of years ago by Mrs Smythe, who wanted to bring her handbag-sized Yorkshire terrier to church. The Elders said no, definitely not. We believe she joined the Presbyterians.
This put me in mind of the only time I've ever seen a dog in church. This was also an outdoor service, back in the Sixties. Our pastor, a diminutive fireball from Meridian, Mississippi, was keen on outdoor services. Once, he'd invited a revival preacher to pitch his oversized tent on our property. Attendance was small – Pennsylvanians weren't used to tents – and his preaching style was a throwback to the 1920s, so the experiment was deemed rather a failure. The next year, Brother Jones decided to hold our own kind of outdoor service by moving the church furniture outside. The lectern had its back to the building, with a piano rolled out next to it, and the folding chairs (we didn't have pews, we weren't affluent enough yet) were arranged in rows down the driveway, with an aisle in the middle. This aisle made moving around easier, but also contributed to what followed.
We sang happily through the hymns. There wasn't a cloud in the late-afternoon sky. So far, so good. But just as Brother Jones was reading the Scripture, a peculiar thing happened. A lovely collie dog came trotting down the street of this quiet neighbourhood. He took in the gathering, and decided to join.
He sat down at the end of a row and faced the preacher. He had an alert and intelligent look.
And there he sat through the whole sermon. Having no more piano to play at the time, I divided my attention between the preacher, who was absorbed in his text, the dog, who seemed to be following the sermon, and my mother, whose face expressed horrified fascination. Throughout the sermon, which lasted for another half hour, the dog continued to pay respectful attention. He almost seemed to understand what was going on. I entertained thoughts of St Francis, who said, 'All things of creation are children of the Father and thus brothers of man.' I was thinking that Francis would have liked having a dog in his congregation.
My mother, who liked dogs, was thinking, 'If that dog goes up front during the invitation, I don't know what I'll do.' (She told me this later.)
Fortunately, the dog didn't decide to 'make a decision for the Lord' that time. He seemed perfectly in tune with the Spirit to me. When I went to the piano, and all rose to sing the invitation hymn, the dog slipped away quietly. He trotted down the street, probably headed for home and supper, having had his food for thought.
Brother Jones said it was a first for him, too. He didn't seem fazed by the visitation: there was not much that fazed Brother Jones, though there were several words in the English language he couldn't pronounce. (We particularly enjoyed his attempts to articulate 'the peace that passeth understanding'.) I doubt Brother Jones would have blinked an eye if the entire fluffle of rabbits that lived at the edge of the woods behind the church building had decided to form a choir.
Just for lagniappe, here's a version of St Francis' hymn with some of his favourite creatures thrown in. Francis would probably have preferred the Donovan version, but all I had to work with was a pipe organ.