I hate to admit this, but attending a church service makes me feel anxious. Coming from a cult-like situation has significantly impaired my ability to enjoy any religious gathering.
So when I heard about a church that is encouraging attendees to come to services with their dogs, I thought to myself, "How great and soothing would it be if I could have my furry best buddy to help me deal with my situational anxiety?"
Not only do I have anxiety in a church setting, I'm also quite shy. I believe having my dog with me to act as a social lubricant might help me interact with other attendees.
Unleashed Community Church in Eugene, Oregon was started by a couple who felt God's leading to use people's relationships with their pets to demonstrate His unconditional love for mankind.
Certainly, for me, my pets' devotion and love has helped me cope with a world of troubles and adjustments, and I like to think they are a little gift from God to remind me of His true character. This has been helpful for me as I try and sort out what is real and what was brainwashing.
With this in mind, I'm intrigued about the Unleashed Community Church. Ruth Rini and her husband, Ron, who started the church that began last September, explain on the church's purpose on the church's Facebook page:
"Unleashed Community Church is the reality of a vision given to my husband Ron and I over seven years ago when we recognized the deep attachment people have to their dogs and other pets in their lives. We realized there was no church community for those who needed pastoral care and a community of support and friendship during all the various circumstances people experience with their beloved pets, who are members of their family. We also realized that dogs and other pets are a perfect example of God's unconditional love for us, and the relationship between humans and animals could be used to demonstrate how much God cares for us and for all of creation."
After the Rini's came to this realization, Ruth decided to go back to college and eventually completed her Masters of Divinity from George Fox Evangelical Seminary in Portland. She graduated in December of 2014 and was "eager to start the church God has placed in our hearts."
"We want to create a church community in which those who love pets as members of the family can express their love for them, find a gospel message that helps others understand God's love in Christ through the human-animal bond, and where they can receive prayer, advice and practical help for any situation they are facing with the pets in their lives."
The only requirements for dogs who attend church with their families is that they be friendly, well-mannered and be current on their vaccinations and flea treatments. The dog-friendly worship service often has illustrations and sermons that relate to people who enjoy the pets in their lives.
Additionally, the church will host Blessing of the Animals Events in which animals of all kinds can accompany their families.
The Facebook page goes on to state:
"We don't know where you are in your spiritual journey, perhaps you are brand new to exploring spiritual issues or you are comfortable in the faith you've acquired at this point. No matter where you are in your journey, we welcome you wholeheartedly and with the unconditional love of God as you join us in our dog-friendly services. We are followers of Jesus and committed to proclaiming the story of our faith in Him and our personal relationship with Him, but we welcome you whether or not your story matches ours.
"We want to provide a community where no one walks alone through both the joy and grief of owning a pet; we want to help you learn more about God through your relationship with your pets. We are eager to hear your story and to work together in ministry to make our community a better place for all animals and for the people who love them.
Part of the inspiration for Unleashed Community Church is Ron and Ruth's love for dogs. In fact, the Rinis founded Double "R" Country Inn Kennels in Springfield, Oregon and have been working with dogs since the 1990s.
For those of use who wonder what a dog-friendly service might look like, according to the Christian Post, a recent service had 20 attendees along with nine dogs. The service lasted about an hour and they were shown Christian music videos followed by a short message. The sermon included illustrations about dogs and teachings from the Bible.
In this particular service, the message centered around veterans and dogs that serve in the military together as well as dogs that help soldiers struggling with PTSD as well as physical ailments.
Although the Unleashed Community Church is the first dog-friendly congregation I'm familiar, apparently theirs isn't the first. Mt. Zion United Methodist Church in Smithsburg, Md offers monthly pet-friendly services, and First Christian Church in Brunswick, OH is also dog-friendly. Also part of the trend is Wesley United Methodist Church in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.
Let us know if you know of any dog-friendly churches in your area!
What do you think about a dog-friendly church service? Would you be more likely to attend or less likely?
"I think God will have prepared everything for our perfect happiness. If it takes my dog being there [in Heaven], I believe he'll be there." - Rev. Billy Graham