C is for dogs in church

C is for dogs in church

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Dogs in church

If all dogs go to heaven, Covenant Presbyterian Church in Westchester is bringing a little bit of heaven down to earth with weekly Sunday evening services where dogs are welcome.

In the main sanctuary, children are preparing for their first communion. In the kitchen, pots are being lifted to the stove for a repast. In the side chapel, the white fleece mats are laid out beside chairs, and Barbie the schnauzer is barking for order.

Mandy, a recently rescued poodle mix watches alertly from the pews along the western wall. Marley, a black dachshund terrier mix, nudges Emma Sczesniak for a lift to her lap. Joey, a senior terrier visiting for the first time, turns his back to the mat and stretches out on the carpet, laying his head on his paws and closing his eyes.

“This is not a worship service for dogs,” said Elder and Deacon Leslie Evans, who coordinates the Canines at Covenant Program. “This is a service for people who have family members who happen to have four legs.”

The service has all the parts you expect from a church service — readings from the Bible, hymns, requests for prayers for those in need of support, announcements and the passing of offering plates.

“Welcome to God’s house. Tonight, it’s God’s dog house,” joked Bill Evans, Leslie’s husband and the leader of the service on a recent Sunday.

The hymn contains lines that fans of Yorkshire veterinarian James Herriott’s books will recognize: “All things bright and beautiful; all creatures great and small.”  The requests for prayers includes one for a congregant whose dog recently passed away.  There is an announcement about a sunrise Easter service to be held in El Segundo at Library Park, where dogs on leash are welcome.

There are two offering plates: one for giving to Convenant and one filled with dog biscuits for taking for your dog.

According to Evans, the weekly Sunday evening service has welcomed worshippers and their dogs since 2009. The idea came about as the church looked for ways to reach out to new people and to create smaller, more intimate groups within the congregation. Then Pastor Tom Eggebeen, himself a dog lover, championed the idea.

For the first six months, Ray Sczesniak recalled, virtually every service had reporters, photographers and television cameras. There was also criticism from people who argued that since dogs don’t have souls, having them in church was inappropriate.

These days, a core group of about 10 people regularly attend. There have been as many as 13 dogs present at a service, but usually it’s about a third of that, Deacon Evans said. Following the service, several congregants meet at a nearby pet-friendly restaurant with a patio.

Covenant Presbyterian, 6323 W. 80th St., holds the Canines at Covenant services from 5 to 5:30 p.m. most Sundays.  For additional information, call (310) 670-5750.

This is the third post in the 2015 A-to-Z Blog Challenge. Beginning with A and continuing on to Z, we’re committed to writing posts using the letters of the alphabet in order from Monday through Friday. Check back tomorrow for “D is for L.A. dogs, drought and landscaping.”

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