Friday, July 23, 2010

Communion Gone to the Dogs

From the Toronto Star:

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.

Read it all.

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!


plsdeacon said...


I think your assessment is correct. But I believe that this is the end result of pushing boundries. Pretty soon, you end up with no boundries and no "core" beliefs, except that what you believe in any given moment is right for that moment.

Phil Snyder

Perpetua said...

Only someone who already believes in giving communion to the unbaptized would make this mistake as a spontaneous gesture.

Bryan Owen said...

Perhaps, Perpetua. Or it could have simply been a spontaneous but well-intentioned mistake. Such things do happen.

Allison Elaine said...

I once attended a parish with a member who came to church with her guide dog. When she came to the altar rail with her dog she received communion; the priest then gave the dog a dog biscuit or treat he had stashed somwhere for the occasion.

No one was offended, although perhaps the dog's working discipline was weakened a little by receiving a treat when he was on duty.

In some denominations it is allowable to dispose of unconsumed communion bread or wafers by putting them on the lawn for birds to eat.

My first time as a Lay Chalicer, I yanked the chalice back from the lips of a dear friend, turned to the priest, and gasped "Father, there's a fly in this wine!" I had to step outside and pour the wine (and the fly) onto consecrated ground.

Dogs, even flies, are as much our fellow creatures as the worms and ants who populate consecrated ground - and we will all populate consecrated ground eventually.

Yes, we must be reverent and protect the Sacrament - but we also need to recollect that we receive the Sacrament precisely because we humans are the most fallen of creatures, and therefore most in need of Its solace, strength, pardon, and renewal.

George said...

At first I thought I would be offended by what took place and then reading further I realized (and remembered) times when I have crossed a line for some by doing or saying something that 'in the moment' seemed ok. I tend to think that this is the case and I also tend to think that God is such that in a situation like this His grace would prevail.

Allison I really liked your comments, I confess to times of late when it was just me and the cat having a quiet moment that I have prayed for Gods blessing and love to be bestowed upon her (Tessa the cat), a little bit of doubt at first but then a sense that she to is part of the creation that Christ has redeemed and that she to is loved by our Father . . . it felt good and proper at the time. (and yes I did trace a little cross on her brow)

Anonymous said...

Brother Owen

Keeping up while in Montana.

One of the questions that I often ask folks who are in seminary,

Would you give holy communion to a dog?

If so, why?

If not, why not?

It always seems to uncover some of the essentials in an aspiring priests sacramental theology.



BillyD said...

I wonder what actually happened. One of the articles mentioned her pretending to give the dog a host, but another seemed to say that she had actually done it.

bob said...

Sigh. Do you notice you actually have to explain *why* it's not done and never has been done by actual Christians? I guess it has to rain before you find out how bad the roof is. Of course there will be those who splash through the house wondering what all the fuss is about?
Maybe just say, oh, never mind....Episcopalians....

Wilf said...

A friend of mine once asked why we don't go out into the streets and throw the host around upon all standing there. I suppose one might wonder why we don't ask a priest to consecrate the whole earth and all the living creatures upon it, so all not only partake of communion, but are the very communion itself.

When we are in a situation that priests don't have the proper sensibilities regarding the theology of the incarnation, we must start asking ourselves these kinds of questions in order to come back to what the Lord intended for us with the Eucharist.

Many churches apparently see the Eucharist as having nothing to do with the Incarnation, and simply as a friendly gesture.

My response would be: this is an exceedingly odd way to make a friendly gesture; smiling, waving, providing a hot meal - any of these would be much better - and then we could get rid of these expensive buildings and the personnel with such odd habits as performing rituals which point to a death in the hope that these will be interpreted as a friendly gesture.