Episcopal Church is Going to the Dogs

It’s easy to make fun of the lunacy in the liberal wing of the Episcopalian Church (and the commentators at First Thoughts have a number of clever retorts), but this latest example of Episcopalian inclusiveness gives me the creeps. Sure, bless the animals. I bless the family dog or cat whenever I do a house blessing. But providing a “worship service” for animals crosses a line that ought not be crossed; even more, it reveals a line that should have remained invisible let alone crossed.

The Rev. Thea Keith-Lucas holds Pippin.

Worship services for animals will, in the end, erase the line between man and animal. This is more than the “Naked Ape” nonsense that pours out of Darwinian sociological paradigms. This adds a patina of false sanctity (worship is serious business) to a person’s love of their animal that has no place in the Church.

In theological terms, animals, and all of creation glorify God when acting according to their nature. A flower in bloom glorifies God; it functions according to its created nature, it has become what God created it to be. But the creation has no moral agency, only man does, and this moral dimension is also why liturgical worship is reserved for man, and man alone. Bring dogs into the sanctuary and, down the road, man becomes nothing more than a sophisticated dog.

Maybe the commentators are right. The best way to handle this is to relentlessly mock it.


First Things Blog

Calvary Episcopal Church of Danvers, Massachusetts, has just announced it will begin offering a monthly worship service for dogs. Besides being driven to the service by Starbucks-jittered suburban elites in trademark Volvo station wagons, the canine faithful will enjoy the unique pleasure of being lived through vicariously.

Perfect Paws Pet Ministry,” as Calvary officials call it, will include a form of communion and prayers offered for the pets. While surely a natural outgrowth of American Episcopalianism, what really bugs me about it is the rank discrimination involved. Calvary Episcopal has announced that only well-behaved dogs may attend, and feline and equestrian companions are roundly excluded from the economy of salvation. Why not invite the local strays, or, better, invite them to preach?


  1. Geo Michalopulos says

    Of course, this brings up vivid (and traumatic, for me anyway) memories of the Amazing, Technicolor, Riverboat Extravaganza of last October.

  2. George, you are right. The Riverboat cruise was a farce and it was the satire of things like the EP’s video game that made many see it for what it was. Satire is the best way to handle the EP and 79th Street these days. After all we have not seen the Green Patriarch in awhile now have we?

  3. Animals have a long history of participation in worship services . . . as sacrifices.

  4. The best way to handle this is to relentlessly mock it.

    An Episcopal priest and his wife decided they needed an appropriate dog to take to the newly created Episcopalian Dog Liturgy. They visited a very expensive kennel and explained their needs to the manager. He assured them he had a perfect Episcopalian dog and it was on sale. When the dog was produced, the manager began giving it commands. The dog was able to fetch the Bible, roll on the floor, and speak . Duly impressed, the priest and his wife purchased the dog and took it to the Dog Liturgy. At coffee hour they began to show off their new dog’s talents. One young child asked “Can your dog do other tricks?” “Let’s see” said the priest. Pointing his finger at the dog, he commanded, “Heel!” The dog immediately jumped up on a chair, placed one paw on the priest’s forehead and began to howl. The priest turned to his wife and whispered, “Now we know why his price was discounted. He’s not Episcopal; he’s Pentecostal.”

  5. Wesley J. Smith says

    I think what it really reveals is a lack of reverence for, or true belief in, Holy Communion.

  6. Eliot Ryan says

    Mocking the services or religious symbols is evidence of spiritual death. Spiritual death is the victory of the demons over the fallen man. A fallen man is going along a dark road because he ceases to reason right.

  7. Tamara Northway says

    This is what happens when women run a church. The picture of the female priest with her dog, Fluffy, says it all. Emotional decisions without out reason.
    Ooops, my mistake, the dog’s name is Pippin. OMG!

    • Julie Anne says

      You’re rude, and not a very good Christian. I can’t believe a woman would speak that way about another woman. Shame on you. Do YOU make “emotional decisions without reason”? I bet you say no. But you’re a woman!

      (If you do, then I suggest you take some courses in logic and critical reasoning. The making of emotional decisions without reason is not sex-linked; it’s due to ignorance.)

      I’m dog-mad, and I think the idea of services for dogs is absurd. I do appreciate it when my priest blesses my pup, but she’s not capable of understanding anything associated with religion.

      But your statement is outrageous. It’s not only sexist, but it’s just plain stupid and has been disproven in studies time and time again.

  8. Fr. Johannes Jacobse says

    You’re rude, and not a very good Christian. I can’t believe a woman would speak that way about another woman. Shame on you…But your statement is outrageous. It’s not only sexist, but it’s just plain stupid…

    Julie, someone might think that your response proves Tamara’s point. In any case, attacking someone else for their ideas is strictly verboten. (The only reasoned sentence in your response is the third one; the rest is finger-wagging and that doesn’t go over well here.) Since this is your first post you get by with a warning. No more though.

    • Julie Anne says


      But don’t worry, I won’t be back to this cesspool of hate.

      • George Michalopulos says

        Julie Anne, Tamara is definately on to something here. It seems evident that ECUSA started going downhill when women were first ordained to the priesthood. (The gay bishop thing is just the icing on the cake.) Why? I can’t say. Perhaps the ordination of women was merely a correlation with wooly-headed thinking, perhaps it was causative. I can’t say. Even though it may be “sexist” to state that the feminization of certain professions has caused an attendent loss of prestige and intellectual rigor, that doesn’t make it less true.

        Case in point: a couple of years ago, Larry Summers, who was then president of Harvard University (and not a conservative by any stretch of the imagination), commented on the glaringly obvious discrepancies between men and women in the “hard sciences.” He thought it was a topic worthy of scientific study (it is). The resulting firestorm forced him to apologize. Even though he did apologize –not once, but five times–he was forced to resign regardless.

        There are so many ironies (Galileo, anyone?) that I don’t know where to start. I’ll just say this: the screaming from the feminists was so overwhelming; one woman in attendance said she “felt like vomiting and fainting.” Does anybody catch the irony here?

        • Harry Coin says


          Did the observation of Larry Summers have to do with the number of women v men in the ‘hard sciences’, or a difference in the quality of their work?

          I’ve known plenty of women that I hold to be a great deal more intelligent than a whole room full of men I’ve known. And I think you and I both know a few men in the priesthood that are grateful everything they say is written down for them.

          • Tamara Northway says


            It is not that women are less intelligent. Of course I would agree that there are many women who are more intelligent that men. But men and women think differently. We do not have the same brains. Physiologically we see, hear and process the same information differently. Hormones also play a role in the way we think. Each gender as something to offer, one is not better than the other. But we need to know the differences so we can help each learn more effectively. We need to know our strengths and weaknesses.

            In the 1850s, it was believed that: “Science for Ladies, Classics for Gentleman.”
            Physics and astronomy were taught very differently in the 1800s. The emphasis was on understanding: How is the universe put together? What laws govern the movements of objects in space and on the earth? Learning physics was considered to be a way of understanding the mind of God, and therefore was seen as pious activity suitable for young woman. In fact in the early 1800s, physics was often referred to as “natural theology.”

            At that same time period, men were out performing women in foreign languages. Times have changed.

          • George Michalopulos says

            Harry, pretty much the former. And why there seemed to be a greater skew in I.Q. towards the right end of the Bell Curve (as far as overall numbers). We’re talking a quantitative phenomenon here, not a qualitative.

            Of course, that’s the point: scientific analysis is not concerned with qualia but hard data. Even if there is no correllation, the fact that scientific research was shut down because of political considerations is intolerable on its face. For me, that was a watershed moment in which I realized that the Left is just peddling superstition and in my conversations with people of that ilk, try to force them to admit that they are no better than the hated Church which shut down Galileo 350 year ago.

  9. Eliot Ryan says

    Often the dogs have the role of surrogate children in the women’s or childless couples lives .
    Research indicate that more and more childless couples are choosing animals as surrogate children. Elderly people also benefit from the companionship of dogs.

    Women do possess a strong maternal instinct. Men don’t have maternal instincts because it is not biologically possible for men to become mothers… So, it is more likely that a female priest would come up with such shocking ideas … She wants the very best for her ‘children’.

    Julie pointed out that her dog “is not capable of understanding anything associated with religion”.
    I would expect that most humans are capable of understanding that dogs are no not capable of understanding anything associated with religion.

    • I have seen many examples of childless couples treating pets as though they were children and even, in some cases, comparing them to children! It is definitely happening and is part of what I call “pet culture”–all the more reason to read Mr. Smith’s work. Perhaps, some day, I’ll return to writing my hunting ethic too. There are infiltrations of pet culture in the Orthodox Church. We need to be vigilant.

      • Eliot Ryan says

        May the Lord grant us to behave sincerely and rationally such that we may bring confusion and sorrow to none!

      • Tamara Northway says

        Hi Fr. Oliver,

        Many times I have heard Orthodox Christian pet lovers wonder if animals have souls and will they be in heaven. At some point, our theologians may need to offer a response to these inquiries so we can avoid going down the path of the Episcopalian church or at least avoid this controversy.

        sincerely, Tamara

        • Michael Bauman says

          Tamara, animals are God’s creation and He evidently delights in great diversity. His Incarnation saves all of creation since our fall damagned it. One of the first commandments He gave us is to dress and keep the earth, we are responsible to Him for the state of this creation and bringing it to fruitfulness for Him. Animals were associated with us in Eden. As we are glorified, so will the rest of creation be glorified.

          It would boggle the mind to believe the God would suddenly wipe out a portion of his Creation He has taken great pains to care for.

          That does not mean, by any stretch of the imagination, that animals can ontologically experience the Creator as humans do. To suppose such a thing is to ignore the unique quality of human beings as images of God and the Incarnation in which God took on human nature. In fact, animals only know God indirectly through us.

          The trouble is the egalitarian ideologies of the modern world. They are all blasphemous.

        • This is a common question now days, especially with some evangelicals and people such as Van Impe claiming that because animals have souls, people’s pets will be resurrected. Perhaps his view has changed, but I remember watching his program once (once or twice a year I watch a few minutes to see what his latest interpretation is) when he said just that. So, it is no surprise that Orthodox ask this. Recently, I had an Orthodox lady ask. I was very kind in my reply because I know how much her pets mean to her and I know this to be the case for many Orthodox, but the truth of the matter is that the pets have “animal souls” and not human souls. The Son of God united himself to the latter, not the former. We should care for animals but we should not expect “fluffy” to be there at the eschaton, though perhaps some of her descendants will be around when Christ returns.

          • “Life in Christ”

            by Fr. John Breck

            March 2, 2004

            POKER”, R.I.P.

            The other day we had one of our dogs “put down,” that is, euthanized. Actually he wasn’t even our dog.
            The neighbor had received him as a gift from his sister, had no interest in him, and neglected him completely, other than to toss a little food out to him in the evening. He was a beautiful animal, despite the matted hair, myriad ticks, and mud up to his tail from tramping through the marshes.

            He was a thoroughbred English Spaniel, black and white, and gentle as a fawn. He had a fawn’s eyes, too: large, liquid and a little sad. His owner had named him Poker. When the fellow said we could keep him, the poor animal was afflicted with heart worms, hook worms, ear mites and an eye infection. When we got him back from the vet, some $300 later, he clung to us so closely we began to call him Cody, for “co-dependent.” But Poker he was, and Poker he remained.

            The veterinarians, a man and a young woman, cared for Poker often during the three years he was ours. Last week, just before his tenth birthday, he stopped eating. Lethargy set in so that he could hardly get around. For a couple of days we nursed him at home, hoping it would pass. By the weekend, those deep, sad eyes told us we had to take him to the clinic. A blood test showed what we had feared: he had massive kidney failure. We could subject him to aggressive and painful treatment, the vet said, with no real chance of improvement. Or we could accept to put him to sleep. I thought about it, tried to pray about it—I loved this little creature—then called my wife, who drove up to join me.

            The vets came in, both of them, and wrapped Poker in very genuine affection. One of them pulled out a box of tissues in case we needed them. His eyes reddened, and he reached for one himself. Then the young woman, in a gesture of remarkable tenderness, inserted the needle, as I cradled Poker’s head in my arms.

            A moment later his heart stopped. The doctor touched his open eye with the tip of her finger and said quietly, “He’s gone.”

            Gone where? She didn’t say “He’s dead;” rather, “He’s gone.” Trying to hold back my own tears, my mind went back to the first time I carried a cadaver. It was in a small Swiss village, in 1968. An elderly friend named Paul, a leader in his local parish, died one morning in the shower. His wife, choked with grief, called the pastor, and he called me.

            We found Paul where he had fallen, lifted him up, carried him to the bed, and covered him to the chest with a sheet. I looked at him, and realized that he was “gone.” Not dead, but simply gone, not there. This body stretched out on the bed was a shell, nothing more. Where was “Paul,” the real Paul that we had known and loved?
            Like Poker, he was “gone”.

            In the few minutes we stayed with Poker, who was warm yet lifeless, I thought too of the first meeting I had with Father Lev Gillet, the much revered spiritual elder who wrote many brief and beautiful books under the name of “A Monk of the Eastern Church.” It was the summer of 1967, and he and I, together with my wife and our infant son, were strolling down a street in London (he was for many years chaplain of the London-based Society of St Alban and St Sergius).

            I don’t recall how we got on the subject. I just remember Father Lev expressing the firm conviction that animals—particularly domestic animals who have lived with and been loved by people—experience some form of afterlife.

            He was a brilliant man, a highly respected theologian, whose writings on Scripture and Prayer of the Heart had offered spiritual nurture to multitudes of people throughout Europe and, to a lesser degree, in the United States. His words were not pious wishful thinking; they emerged from a life of thoughtful reflection and prayer.

            Animals have an afterlife? At the time I couldn’t quite believe it. Do animals have souls? And can those souls be what we call “eternal”?
            If, like Father Lev, we can answer that question in the affirmative, it can only be by adjusting altogether our way of looking at God and His creation. He is the Creator and Lord of all, and in some special way, of every living thing.

            The mystic perceives heaven in a blade of grass, the petal of a flower, or a child’s uplifted face. Heaven is not “out there.” It’s all around us, enveloping everything and everyone in light and beauty that once in a great while we can perceive as a gift of sheer grace.
            And perceiving it, we enter into it, even in the midst of our daily routine, despite our distractions, despite our sin.

            Everything that lives derives its life from God, from participation in the Life of God. In some inexplicable way, all living things come forth from God and return to Him. The life they share, again in some unfathomable and mysterious way, is God’s own life. Perhaps this is what theologians mean by “pantheism”: God is in and through all things, not ontologically as a “pantheist” would hold, but by grace—the dynamic and life-giving power of the Holy Spirit, “who is everywhere present, filling all things.”

            Is it conceivable that life simply disappears, ends, and vanishes? Nothing vanishes, physicists tell us. If matter is transformed into energy, maybe something analogous occurs between the physical realm and the spiritual realm, between life and death. We know this happens with human persons, endowed with what we call an “immortal soul.” A theologian would reply, “But persons are unique, made in the image of God.” And my musings he would probably dismiss as nostalgic self-deception, a pointless and empty attempt to assuage the grief I feel over the loss of a little dog who used to cling to me like my shadow, a friend and companion whom I loved.

            Do dogs, too, have immortal souls? Does a blade of grass?

            I can’t answer these questions in any reasoned way, a way that is theologically convincing. All I can do is recall Father Lev’s conviction that every creature finds its true destiny in the heart of the merciful God, because there it has its true origin. If God has shared our life in the person of Jesus, it is because we, from the moment of our creation, share His life. And that life is eternal. Is it permissible to make a logical leap here, to conclude that therefore not only our human life, but every life, is likewise eternal?

            I don’t know. All I know is that I miss Poker, and somehow in my simple fantasy, I hope that he misses me. I hope that he is not dead, but that he is really “gone”: gone home to the Creator of his life, that life that brought me warmth, laughter, love and occasional tears.

            I hope that for him, as for all of us, R.I.P. means not so much “Rest in Peace” as “Rejoice in Paradise.” It’s a naïve, childlike hope. And maybe it’s vain, even heretical. But when I think of Poker—as when I think of our friend Paul, and everyone and everything that we love and cherish—I want very much for it to be a hope fulfilled.

  10. Tamara Northway says

    In the history of Christianity there were never any services or communion for animals until women became a part of the hierarchy of a church.

    It is irrational thinking which lead to this decision.

    • Tamara Northway says

      “The Rev. Thea Keith-Lucas holds Pippin. Calvary Episcopal Church in Danvers is launching a monthly worship service called Perfect Paws Pet Ministry.”

      Further in the article on this topic:

      “Dogs will have a say during the service,” Keith-Lucas said, “because barking won’t be banned.

      We’ll hold on to the sacredness of the moment but in a way that is relaxed enough so people can be involved with their animals,” Keith-Lucas said.

      Dogs will have a say in the service? Hmmm…. what thought process led to that decision?

  11. Michael Bauman says

    Julie Anne, if you would like some sober scholarship on the matter try: http://jandyongenesis.blogspot.com/2010/05/empowered-through-reading-bible.html

    There are other articles on the blog that relate to the antropological difference between men and women and how that intersects with the Christian revelation.

    It is the opposite of ‘sexist’ to declare the reality of who we are, male and female. Only then is it possible to begin to be in acord with the way God makes us.

  12. Michael Bauman says

    ….And then there is this: http://jandyongenesis.blogspot.com/2009/04/why-women-were-never-priests.html

    The author of this blog is a woman who used to be an episcopal ‘priest’ –not Orthodox.

  13. Tamara Northway says


    Thanks for the link. I believe we really do a disservice to all of our children when we ignore the unique, God-given differences in the way men and women think. While Judith Ann may believe I am a sexist, there have been many studies showing the physiological differences in the way males and females see, hear, and apply critical thinking to the same information. I actually believe in celebrating our differences and encouraging our children to appreciate who they are as men and women.

    Because the education system has ignored those differences over the last 25 years or so
    we now see that college admission rates have soared for women and are plummented for men. The ratio of males to females on campuses across America are in the 60 to 40 range, with male admissions dropping with each year. Colleges are doing what they can to balance the ratio by finding ways to accept more men (men are the new minorities).

    And interesting book on the subject is Why Gender Matters by Leonard Sax M.D.,Ph.D.

  14. “Blessed is our dog: always, now and ever…”

  15. Tamara, I love seeing another woman that doesn’t leap straight to the “OMG but pets are sooo cute so let’s put them in the service.” Great posts, I really enjoyed reading them.

    On the one hand, I like animals and think it’s really nice when churches have a pet-blessing day. I like to believe that yes, my grandma and her favorite dogs are together in heaven. Sentimental to some, valid to me.

    On the other hand, animals don’t understand religion, they can’t genuinely contribute, and they’d be just as happy in a park somewhere. Anthropomorphizing animals isn’t a help at all and I find it disrespectful to religion–and I say that as someone who doesn’t actually attend or belong to a church.

    • Tamara Northway says

      Thank you Mary for your kind words.

      I am no theologian when it comes to animal souls entering heaven which is why it was nice having Fr. Oliver pop in with the Orthodox Churches’ stance on the subject.
      Blessing animals does not seem to be the issue. However, giving them communion is over the line.

      Even so, animals are God’s creatures and if we were all living sinless lives we would be able to communicate with them. In our tradition, there are stories from the lives of saints who had this type of relationship with animals. St. Seraphim of Sarov was so full of Christ’s love that even a bear felt safe to eat from his hand. And other wild animals — rabbits, wolves, foxes and others — came to the hut of the ascetic. These stories are quite moving without sentimentalism and point to how God meant our relationship to be if the fall had not occurred.

      the link below shows a picture of St. Seraphim with the bear


      • Fr. Johannes Jacobse says

        You can communicate with them even if you are a sinner. A little over month ago a baby bird fell out of the nest near my garage. I put it back. Later that afternoon I saw it fell out again. It was clear that its mother really didn’t know how to build a nest. So I got some packing tape, mushed together the nest to it looked like a nest again, and taped it to the tree. The mother was watching all this from the roof. I put the baby bird back and four minutes later the mom flew back to the nest. She raised the baby bird and now it is on its own.

        Here’s the cool thing. The mom hangs around all the time. She pecks around looking for food, looks up and sees me, and never flies away.

  16. Wesley J. Smith says

    Isn’t eternal life supposed to involve constant worship of God in the eternal choir?

    • Fr. Johannes Jacobse says

      Yes. I understand a person’s love for animals, but the thinking that informs the Episcopalian “animals are people too” outlook strikes me as sentimental projections that substitute for the loss of any sense of the sacred. Heaven, then, becomes a place of pillows, clouds, fuzzy photographs and the like and the small but powerful vision the scripture gives us that in heaven we worship the very source of life slips from awareness.

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