GREEN TREE, Pa. (RNS) — Today, Aug. 26, is National Dog Day, a holiday designated since 2004 to celebrate dogs and encourage adoption.
It’s a day that has special meaning for one of the pastors at Unity Presbyterian Church. Like many people of faith, Pastor Petey once was lost but now is found.
His journey to the church, however, began not in a Bible study or outreach ministry but in a pet rescue.
Associate Pastor Petey, as the congregation affectionately calls him, was a reactive dog when he was first rescued by the Faust family in 2018. Petey soon became a regular visitor to the church office, and through a combination of medication, training and exposure to people, Petey’s calling began to emerge.
“We began noticing him connect with people, and people connect with him … that to me is evangelism,” said Pastor Dennis Molnar, pastor at Unity Presbyterian. “It emerged that he had a definitive calling.”
That calling led the church to honor Petey, a Beagle-Australian shepherd mix, on July 25, anointing and commissioning him as associate pastor for the pet ministry at Unity Presbyterian Church.
On a recent Tuesday, Associate Pastor Petey greeted a visiting Religion News Service journalist with a nuzzle during a meeting at the church. The multi-colored pup with warm, amber eyes then sat calmly at the feet of his owner, Bob Faust, until it was time to take his glamour shots.
One of Petey’s most important roles is to greet attendees at church, which he does outside Unity Presbyterian’s doors each Sunday. By drawing people together, Petey creates a common bond that Molnar says can “spark a depth of conversation you might not normally get to.”
Since 2018, the church has also offered a yearly pet-blessing event — adapted to become a drive-thru event during the pandemic — at which Molnar says 80% of the attendees are from the community.
“In my theology, all creatures, all living things are sacred, because God has created them,” said Molnar. “We’re the ones, I think, who limit our connection of sacredness.”
Church pet ministries are surprisingly common. Some churches hold yearly blessings for pets in the congregation, while some have more extensive programs.