(Photo: Eric Gaillard / Reuters)
A church in Western Maryland will embrace family dogs by honoring them as church guests in an upcoming service to create a unique worship experience for the congregation.
Mt. Zion United Methodist Church in Smithsburg, Md., will host their first canine service on the last Sunday of each month beginning Jan. 26. The idea is part of the church's effort to attract worshippers who consider their pets to be a part of their families.
"There are some folks who don't like leaving their pets, especially dogs, at home alone," said Rev. Al Deal, reports CBS Baltimore. "I thought it would be nice if they could be provided with a warm, welcoming and comforting place to worship with their canine companions."
The idea for the "Doggy Day Service," was sparked by Rev. Ann Bullis, another United Methodist minister in Wisconsin who encouraged her parishioners to bring their dogs to church last year.
While many are on board with the inclusion of animals while they worship, others are not.
"I believe the biggest concern is about cleanup duties after the service," said Deal. "I have promised to take care of that. I'm also thinking about providing bags so that owners can clean up after their dogs outside of the church."
In addition to pet-friendly services, Deal plans to include a time for Sunday school for his members and their pets, including cats, depending how well the dogs behave.
Deal thinks more churches should also make an effort to acknowledge the connection between people and their pets if they want to be successful in ministering to a person and everything that makes them whole.
"Modern society recognizes how important pets are," said Deal. "They serve as guide dogs for the blind. They assist those with physical and mental challenges and provide comfort to those in nursing homes. For years, dogs have protected our military personnel and first responders. There are even cemeteries providing burials and cremations for our pets."
As a pet owner himself, currently dealing with an ailing 13-year-old beagle, Deal said he understands the close relationship many have with their animals while recounting a time when a girl told her pastor that she did not want to go to heaven if her deceased dog was not going to be there.
"How sad. I would have told her that if she wanted to see her beloved pet in heaven, then God could make that happen," said Deal. "Theologically correct or not, I believe we'll see our pets again. They, too, are God's creatures."