A dog collar is the last thing you would expect to see in a non-religious church, but in a service last week there were almost a dozen – around the necks of the congregation.
The special event for dogs, held in Stoke Newington’s New Unity church, was the brainchild of its serving Reverend, Andy Pakula. “The service today was for honouring dogs, celebrating dogs, learning from dogs, and remembering dogs that we’ve lost. It was a time to have fun,” he said.
Despite the rain, Rev Pakula said the turnout was high. “Lots of dogs, lots of humans. Some humans without dogs. All the dogs had humans though.” The format followed a traditional religious service with sermons, readings, blessings and songs. The tunes were pop songs revamped with doggy lyrics. The George Michael song, Faith, became Fur. “You’ve gotta have fur, you’ve gotta have fur fur, fur…Humans…”
Kate Eden who attended the service with a “borrowed” dog said: “It was crazy as expected and with the rain the dogs were smelly and muddy which added to the atmosphere.” “There were moving moments as the dogs were blessed and funny moments as the dogs barked loudly in unison with the clapping.”
Dog owner Ross, did a reading about a dog getting to the gates of what was purported to be heaven only to find he was not allowed in. It did have a happy ending, however. He and his partner Louise said they and their dogs “had thoroughly enjoyed the service and hoped it would be a regular event.”
Despite the humorous nature of the service, the Reverend said there was a serious underlying message. “Although most people have had it with religion – they find so many things repellent there: patriarchy, misogyny, homophobia etc. and being required to believe something they don’t believe in – they have a yearning to find ways to be ever-more human. More loving, more mindful, more connected.”
The idea of an animal service is not exclusive to the Unitarian church. Pet blessings have been a tradition in Catholic and Anglican churches for over 200 years.
New Unity church believes in social justice and inclusion. It refused to conduct marriage services of any kind until all couples could be married in church.
Regular Sunday services with different themes each week reflect that ethos. This Sunday, the day after Holocaust Memorial Day, will focus on ‘Dehumanising Labels’.
To find out more about the church and other upcoming events, visit www.new-unity.org