Animals in Church
By Allen and Linda Anderson
Do dogs and cats and other animals belong in church?
Fortunately The Rev. Jim Morris, pastor of Thibodaux Church, thought so when he found a family and their poodle sleeping under the altar of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Center on the Nicholls State University Campus. According to an article by Millie Ball, “Thibodaux Church Sheltering Pets” on the Animal Liberation Front website, the family could not check into a shelter for Hurricane Katrina victims because it didn’t allow pets.
When The Rev. Morris found more people standing outside the college shelter with their pets, he invited them into his church — 130 people with dogs, cats, birds, and a pot-bellied pig took him up on the offer. PetSmart and PetCo later donated cages. People slept on the floor and the pews. The pastor likened the scene to Noah’s Ark. Most of these people would not leave New Orleans because they couldn’t abandon their pets.
The Rev. Morris says, “Animals calm people down. And pet lovers usually have
gentle hearts. If you go into the other shelter, people tend to sit still and
idle. Here, there’s a lot going on. And what’s wonderful is the way our students
are volunteering and helping wherever they can. For us this is a mission that
helps the evacuees and their pets as well as our students who are here taking
care of them.”
Angel Animals in Church
We asked readers of our “Angel Animals Story of the Week” to weigh in on the question of whether animals should be in church with people. Below are some of their answers.
Tia Dawn says, “Why not? They are members of the family.”
Ana D. Cruz of Valley Stream, New York says, “I definitely feel animals belong in church, for God loves all his creatures, so why shouldn’t they be welcome in His house?
Christine Smith from Pennsylvania writes, “Yes, I do believe animals belong in churches. When I first joined my parish, they had a cat. You could see him strolling around church. It was always a joke when we had a novena. Many non-parishioners attended, and all of a sudden you would hear an exclamation here or there when they saw the church cat.
Theresa Finck lives in Oklahoma in what she calls “the land of tornadoes.” She thinks animals belong in church because after all, Christ called himself the Good Shepherd. She says, “Our new priest recently blessed animals on the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi. They are God’s creatures and in some cases, a lot nicer than humans.
I had a priest who was speaking to an elderly lady whose dog recently died. She asked him if she would see the dog in heaven. Monsignor said, ‘Would that make you happy?’ She said it would make her ecstatic. So he replied, ‘Then you will see him in Heaven.’ We also have a lady who brings her iguana to church nearly every Sunday. He does nothing but sit on her shoulder and never moves or makes a sound.”
Gail Parker of Philadelphia writes, “My dog Renegade had to stop in the chapel before going on our rounds each and every visit we made to the St. John Neumann Nursing Home. It was his idea; not mine. He’d stand there looking toward the altar for a minute or so, and then we could leave. I’d say a prayer too.
Carmen Villegas writes, “Animals definitely belong in church. At the birth of Christ, animals were around the manger.”
Cathy Gorgenson says, “It is my belief that animals probably have more of a right to be in a church than most humans. You don’t see them trying to kick someone out because of the color of their skin, hair, species, sexual preferences, etc. I don’t go to church because of the difficulty in finding a true heart preaching the scriptures. I think, though, after reading about Rev. Morris in Thibodaux, it would be an honor to attend his church. We need more souls like him on this planet.”
Judy Morris in Key Largo, Florida gives an interesting twist to the question. She says, “I belong to a church that chants or sings the word HU, which is an ancient name for God and is very holy. We get together in groups and joyfully sing this sound. Sometimes we get together in my home to do this.
I have a cat named Willie. He is special in many ways and he loves the sound of the HU. He crawls onto my lap and lays his head against my chest while watching my face, then places his paw on my throat to feel the HU. He stays that way for about twenty minutes until we stop. I believe he is consciously participating in the group HU. Also, another cat named Dusty sometimes attends and sings along with us by meowing repeatedly. What a way to express the joy of soul!”
Barbara Rood says, “Our pastor doesn’t like animals, period. So I know he wouldn’t want them in church. Personally, I think it would be nice sometimes. After all, God loves His dear animals too.”
Sandi from Phoenix, Arizona writes, “When my mom died, I was at her side along with my dog Bunny. We had spent the previous summer living with and caring for her. Oh how she loved Bunny. In fact, he was also recovering from surgery and had difficulty standing, so she began hand feeding him as she had with her own little dog. There were mystical moments around Mom’s death. Bunny was seeing things the rest of us couldn’t.
Her funeral was held in her hometown church, and Bunny attended, lying quietly
in front of the pew. When I got up to deliver her eulogy, he stayed in place.
The next day, as we journeyed to the cemetery to inter her ashes, Bunny
accompanied me. I was not about to leave him out when I needed the best support
I could have.”
Skippy Gets Religion
In our book, “God’s Messengers: What Animals Teach Us about the Divine,” Mary Elizabeth Martucci, a retired university administrator from South Bend, Indiana, says that parishioners in her childhood church renewed their relationship with God in an unique way. One Sunday, Mary’s dog Skippy started attending services. The dog followed the then eight-year-old girl to church, sneaked through the side door, walked down the aisle, lowered himself onto the sanctuary carpet, and observed the service. The congregants watched in awe and amusement. Afterwards, Skippy walked back out the side door.
To Mary’s surprise and relief, the pastor was so impressed with the dog’s respectful demeanor that he allowed Skippy to continue attending services. Skippy’s close attention to the proceedings prompted parishioners to become more mindful and reverential. Mary concluded that her dog had reminded everyone that even an animal could honor his Creator in church on Sundays.
What do you think? Would you like to attend church with your animal family member?
Allen and Linda Anderson are founders of the Angel Animals Network and authors
of New World Library books, “Angel Dogs: Divine Messengers of Love,” “Angel
Cats: Divine Messengers of Comfort,” and “Rainbows & Bridges: An Animal
Companion Memorial Kit” to help people heal after pet loss. Subscribe to the
“Angel Animals Story of the Week” at www.angelanimals.net .
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