Comfort Dogs Come Home to Roost in My Parish, by Pr. Rossow

If nothing else, these are very interesting days in the Church. Here is one of those stories of interest.

One of our school staff asked me yesterday if we could have the comfort dogs come to a chapel service. What makes this an interesting story is that long time and regular readers will remember my critiques on this website of the infamous “Comfort Dogs” of Lutheran Church Charities. I will share with you my response to this staff member but first here is some background to the story.

I first called attention to the comfort dog issue in a post nearly two years ago titled “Dog Ministry, You Can’t Make this Stuff Up.” The Comfort Dog phenomenon took an even more drastic turn when we learned that they were installed as staff members of a local church and even installed at the altar! I recorded that story this last January.

Is this the end of Biblical piety and spirituality as we have known it for the last 2,000 years (minus that little blip during the generation of St. Francis of Assissi – the 13th century patron saint of animals)? Not really. I don’t want to make too much of this. One is tempted to take the “Valley Girl” approach, shrug one’s shoulders and just mutter “whatever.” But there is an alarm to be sounded here. When we call dogs “ministers” and dedicate them as staff members of parishes, it is another example of how we are caving into the informality of this narcissistic-Romantic age where relationships and relevance are eclipsing reverence and revealed truths.

Here is how I responded to the staff member:

I would rather have them come for an assembly than for chapel.
As you may know, I am a big animal fan but the group that runs this (I think it is Lutheran Church Charities) uses really inappropriate language in describing the dogs. For instance, they talk about the “ministry” that the dogs do. They also literally had them come up to the altar at a local LCMS church and had them “commissioned.”
These are nice sentiments but our theology is not built around sentiment but around revealed truths and applying this sort of language and ritual to dogs is a disservice to the offices that you and I and the other pastors and teachers in the church hold. It is also a sad commentary on how the church is slipping into a watered down piety and spirituality these days. Dogs are good. Calling dogs “ministers” is not helpful. Using dogs to bring comfort to people is a good thing (as long as they don’t have fleas) but commissioning them at the altar is just downright silliness and detracts from the serious and reverent piety called for in God’s word.
And here you thought you were just asking an innocent question. 🙂
So, I do not want to encourage this inappropriate use of churchly language and ritual by having them come to chapel but I do think the dogs are cool and serve a useful purpose. An assembly might be a good place to have them exposed to the boys and girls.

Pastor Rossow

So, will the Comfort Dogs come home to roost at Bethany? We will see. They do have a role to fill but certainly not an office in the church. I will keep you posted.

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


Comfort Dogs Come Home to Roost in My Parish, by Pr. Rossow — 52 Comments

  1. I’m glad you wouldn’t!
    The newspapers here bear witness that some would and do.
    The warning was meant to be general not aimed at you.

  2. You may not see this because this thread is so old. But I would like to talk a little about my comfort dog. I have been hovering over a dark place for the last 10 years since my husband died. Many heavy things happened to me at that same time besides his death. Including my son breaking down and being diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. It was a horrible time at the beginning of his illness. Three times he nearly went into a catatonic state.

    I was watching a dog show on TV and when it came to my particular dog (Cavalier King Charles). They talked quite extensively about how they were used as therapy dogs. Especially after 9/11 and with children. I decided to find one. When I went to pick her up, I sat down on the ground and three dogs were let out for me to look at. She came right to my lap and looked me squarely in the eyes. Then she ran away and played, but came right back to me again and did the same thing. I always say, “she picked me out.” In fact, she so thoroughly picked me out that she still thinks she is one of my body appendages.

    She has really done her job. For both my son and I. I will be a “basket case” when her life ends. She has brought much joy to all of our even extended family. She is very popular and loved by everyone we meet.

    Honestly, she was a gift from God. She helped us so tremendously. As to your question, “do you think it is right that these dogs are said to have a “ministry” and do you think they should be installed at the altar of a church? “—I say, of course not. If my church had an outdoor service, I would love to bring her with me once or twice. Because she loves people so much.

    She doesn’t need to be commissioned to do God’s work. She just does.

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