If all dogs go to heaven, Covenant Presbyterian Church is bringing heaven to Westchester with Sunday evening services that welcome dogs.
In the sanctuary, children are preparing for first communion. In the kitchen, pots are stirred for a repast. In the side chapel, white fleece mats are laid by chairs. Barbie the schnauzer is barking for order.
Mandy, a recently rescued poodle mix, watches alertly from the pews along the wall. Marley, a black dachshund-terrier mix, nudges Emma Sczesniak for a lift to her lap. Joey, a visiting senior terrier, ignores the mat and stretches out on the carpet, laying his head on his paws and closing his eyes.
In the Lord’s service
“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 is all you expect from a church service. There are Bible readings, hymns, prayer requests, 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.
Fans of Yorkshire veterinarian James Herriott’s books easily recognize the hymn: “All things bright and beautiful; all creatures great and small. . .” Prayer requests include one for a congregant whose dog recently died. Announcements include a sunrise Easter service at El Segundo’s Library Park, that welcomes leashed dogs.
There are two offering plates: one for giving to Convenant and one filled with dog biscuits for canine congregants.
In the beginning
According to Evans, the weekly Sunday evening service has welcomed worshippers and their dogs since 2009. The idea came as the church looked for ways to reach out to new people and 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, nearly every service had reporters, photographers and television cameras. There were also critics. Some argued that since dogs don’t have souls, having them in church was inappropriate.
These days, about 10 people regularly attend. There have been as many as 13 dogs present at a service, but usually it’s closer to four, Deacon Evans said. After the service, some 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.