At St. Francis, They Bark 'Amen'
STAMFORD, Conn., May 25, 2005
It's a relatively new phenomenon, but one that is gaining in popularity as congregations seek to attract new members.
How can you get to church when you can't leave your pet home alone? It's simple; take Fido or Fluffy along, The Early Show correspondent Debbye Turner reports.
At St. Francis Episcopal Church in Stamford, Conn., Sundays are a time for reflection, prayer, and celebration of all God's creatures, with an emphasis on "all."
Call it prayer for the pet set. Most participants are of the canine variety with some birds, mice, and a brave feline thrown in, too.
"They are mannerable. It's quite amazing," Mother Molly McGreevy
says, "If a dog and a person come late, everybody barks, which I often wish would happen in our regular service. When people come late, everybody in the room starts barking."
It all started when parishioner Lillian Kraemer took her cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Grantham, to a morning service.
Kraemer says, "He came every week and behaved impeccably and he began to be called the Church Dog."
Why would she even want to take her dog to church?
"I'm a single woman," Kraemer says. "I haven't had kids, but I have had dogs all my life, and they are, in a way, one's family. You want to share the important parts of your life with those that you love, and I happen to love this little critter."
Before long, other members began taking their pets. But concerns about people with allergies and small children prompted the clergy to create a special monthly service.
Kraemer says she thinks Grantham is aware that he's in church.
"He never makes a sound," she says. "I have to confess that from time to time when Grantham barks and I want him to be quiet I say 'church' and he stops."
But sometimes animals act like, well, animals.
Asked how much cleaning up he is doing after these services, Pastor Mark Lingle says, "We're not doing too much, we've had a few accidents, and we have a jug of Nature's Miracle out there, as you know, and we've done a few, but not too much. The pets have been pretty well trained."
While their owners take communion, pets get a blessing.
Mother Molly says with laughter, "I don't always know which end of the animal I'm going to get. Sometimes they come up and they turn around and I have this rear in front of me. It doesn't matter. You touch the animal, you say a blessing, and you look at the owner's face, and it just is so - to me - very moving. It's my favorite part."
Afterwards at the coffee hour, there are treats and playtime.
Some parishioners find it surprising. For example, when Emma Hart, 8, was asked what God thinks about her bringing her pets to church, she says, "I think that he, sort of, is shocked."
And, of course, some people believe church is no place for animals. But at St. Francis, pets have brought some worshippers back to the pews.
Pastor Lingle says, "To the person who said to us, 'I've been away from the church for 10 years.' This is the thing that got them back into the church, and they're taking communion, and they're saying prayers. To me, that's a really important thing."
Only a handful of churches around the country offer regularly scheduled services for parishioners and their pets.
But many churches do offer a special St. Francis day service in the fall in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals. Animals are welcome then.
At the church Turner visited in Stamford, Conn., the fall St. Francis celebration brings an even wider variety of pets - among them horses, chickens and snakes.
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