St. Peter’s Anglican Church has long been known as an open and inclusive place.
So open, it seems, they won’t turn anyone away. Not even a dog.
That’s how a blessed canine ended up receiving communion from interim priest Rev. Marguerite Rea during a morning service the last Sunday in June.
According to those in attendance at the historical church at 188 Carlton St. in downtown Toronto, it was a spontaneous gesture, one intended to make both the dog and its owner – a first timer at the church — feel welcomed. But at least one parishioner saw the act as an affront to the rules and regulations of the Anglican Church. He filed a complaint with the reverend and with the Anglican Diocese of Toronto about the incident – and has since left the church.
“I wrote back to the parishioner that it is not the policy of the Anglican Church to give communion to animals,” said Bishop Patrick Yu, the area bishop of York-Scarborough responsible for St. Peter’s, who received the complaint in early July. “I can see why people would be offended. It is a strange and shocking thing, and I have never heard of it happening before.
“I think the reverend was overcome by what I consider a misguided gesture of welcoming.”
Rev. Rea was contacted numerous times about the incident, but did not want to comment.
"She is quite embarrassed by it," said Yu.
But congregants of the church say the act wasn't meant to be controversial.
I can easily imagine that this incident was one of those things that happens on the spur of the moment, something that you instinctively do with the best of intentions and then, looking back, think, "Oh my, what have I done?!" Based upon the news article, it does not appear that this priest was consciously doing something meant to be provocative. I'm willing to give her the benefit of the doubt even as I think what she did was wrong.
It wouldn't surprise me, however, if this is going on in other places, or if it started to happen more often. (While not going as far as communing animals, I note that there is a Roman Catholic parish in which the priest's dog attends mass with him.) When practices of reverence are on the decline in favor of a more casual atmosphere in churches, and when "inclusion"comes to mean acceptance without boundaries such that we are seriously talking about communing the unbaptized as a way of being a welcoming Church, then why stop with giving communion to unbaptized humans? Why not give it to animals, too? After all, many Episcopal parishes bless animals around the Feast Day of St. Francis each year. If they're good enough to be blessed, surely they're good enough to receive communion, right? As one person said about this incident at St. Peter's Anglican Church, "Christ would have thought it was neat."
"Do not give what is holy to dogs" (Matthew 7:6). It's rather tempting to give that verse a literal interpretation right about now!