I’m working on a new Mission Strategy: Terrier-led Worship.
The question of how one changes a liturgical culture is never far from my mind. A lot of parishes get lost somewhere between ‘mini-cathedral’ and ‘private club’. Lack of humour is mistaken for reverence; chaos is seen as informality.
Quite by accident, I find myself exploring a new model: Worship with Dogs.
There are regular doggy-worshippers in two of my six congregations. One is a friendly, quiet, old terrier who accompanies his elderly human so that they can both feel safe. He sits under her chair on a blanket, and comes up to the rail for a blessing. He nibbles on biscuits at coffee, and expertly welcomes new members.
In another church, we have a whole pack. Three terriers, two, none, four. One never really knows who will turn up. In winter they are held in by the wooden door, and in summer they can sit on the screened in porch. It’s what the screen is for.
Yesterday, a one-eyed terrier came up as acolyte as I read the gospel: good as gold, he set his eyes on the book and did not move till it was over.
Their presence changes things. More than anything I can say, the fact that we pray with dogs makes it clear that this is not The Church of Ancient Memory. Our worship is not about best behaviour or rules. We can be serious about our faith and light hearted in our approach.
With the dogs there, I can slip in an unexpected aside about the too ready acceptance of abuse in our society, without worrying that the young children are going to latch onto it. (They have mandalas to colour, and a dog is trying to lick their nose.) With the dogs there, it feels natural to pause between confession and absolution to answer the three year old’s question, ‘Daddy, why are you all talking?’ We explain, and ask them to think of something they wish they hadn’t done this week, and absolution is granted.
A large part of my heart will always be committed to big, beautiful liturgies that catch us up in the wonder of God. But that is never going to be the norm of parish ministry.
In the villages, the dogs teach us we are human, and let the whole of life come in.