Mistakes in Hospitality

If the churches don’t come up with a better definition and understanding of hospitality, I think we will continue to have problems as happened recently in Toronto. (Sorry to those involved that I am dragging this out in the light again, but I really don’t think it’s been addressed adequately.)

A man came to church with his dog. That’s not the problem. I’ve taken animals to church myself, including a just-born lamb. He was new to the church, but was an acquaintance of the interim priest in some way. He came forward to the altar rail for communion and the dog came, too. The priest, for whatever motivation, deliberately gave the dog a consecrated wafer. That poor priest didn’t get home, I bet, before someone called her bishop. (This is an Anglican church, obviously!)

We don’t give consecrated bread to animals.

There are many reasons why she might have given the wafer to the dog – St. Francis gave consecrated host to the birds, and in some places, consecrated wafers may be spread on the ground for God’s creatures to take, if the wafers are unusable. This does happen: I’ve had to do it myself, when someone spilled water into the ciborium, when reserved sacrament had become so stale that it was inedible, and when a nursing home patient spat the host back at me. Burning the unusable host is preferable but not always practical. So it isn’t wrong for an animal to eat the host, but only if it is incidental.

She may have thought it was hospitable to the guest and the dog to give the animal what the people were getting. It was the deliberate nature of the act that caused her trouble.

On the flippant side, we could argue that the dog isn’t baptized and shouldn’t receive the sacrament of communion. This is a rather important point in Anglicanism. First one, then the other.  Anglicans do not have confirmation firmly tied into communion as other faith groups do, but baptism is pretty much non-negotiable. First you must be washed, then you are clean for the table. We are baptized but once: As we are physically born but once, so our spiritual birth is but once. And as we need our daily bread at home, so we go to the Lord’s Table frequently and in the company of others, our spiritual family.

To get serious: Animals are not in need of atonement. Although they, as with all creation, are groaning for the consummation of the Day of Judgment, they are not fallen in soul and are sinless. Animals can appear vicious to us in how they obtain their food and when they attack or defend, but it is not in a state of sin and willfulness that they kill. They are acting under instinct and it is our interpretation that it is vicious. So the sacraments are reserved for humans in our sinfulness. We are made in the likeness of the Creator, and can be fallen in sin and willfulness; we require atonement. We require grace.

The priest’s error was to perhaps impulsively offer the consecrated sacrament to an animal, thinking that she was hospitable.  The metaphor Jesus used in his conversation with the foreign woman about the crumbs falling from the table and eaten by the little dogs was not meant to be taken literally. (Jesus said to the woman asking for healing for her daughter: “We don’t give the children’s bread to the dogs.” She answered, with a lot of faith and courage: “But the littel dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the table.” And her daughter was healed; Jesus did not come just for Israel, but for the whole world, even those Israel considered unclean and beyond the pale. He used that old insult to test her faith, so that grace might be abounding.)

It is not true hospitality to hand out communion wafers to every mouth that opens. Human food is not appropriate for dogs, especially the food we eat these days. A communion wafer is nothing more than a little bit of white flour and water. It did the dog no harm, but it didn’t do any good. The larger issue is our vocation to feed the world. We are certainly not doing that, and we don’t even feed ouselves well. We prefer the depraved foods we invented in the last century, the foods lacking real nutrition- white sugar and flour, hydrogenated fats. We allow multi-national corporations to ship these foods to other countries, where they entice the population away from their native foods. We then do not have enough whole foods to share because we have refined them for our spoiled appetites. We have ruined irrevocably large tracts of wilderness and animal habitat, so that God’s creatures may not feed themselves. We have been poor stewards and unable to show God’s hospitality.

Real hospitality has nothing to do with who gets that poor substitute for bread we serve at the altar; it has to do with real bread, and the real love of Christ.  We get very caught up in the show of sacramentality while forgetting or ignoring the sacramentality of love Christ gave us.

After the communion was over, did anyone invite that visitor and his dog home for a meal?


6 thoughts on “Mistakes in Hospitality

  1. I am not an Anglican and am not familiar with Anglican understandings of communion, and my church doesn’t believe in magic powers of a “consecration” ritual. But, along with St. Francis, I’m not sure it is improper for non-human animals to partake of communion. There is certainly scripture to indicate that the new covenant is for all creation, not only humans.

    I don’t think your views on animals comport with current research, which indicates that many animals do have a moral sensibility. And there have been indications that some animals have a spiritual hunger.

    Have you heard the story about the dog in Spain who for many years got up early each Sunday morning and traveled hours to get to a church, where he participated in the mass, getting up and down with the rest of the congregation, and then returned home? He went alone, without human companions. Apparently no one was sure how he originally became aware of the church and its mass schedule. There are many other, somewhat less dramatic, stories of dogs and cats (and in a few cases, other animals) who regularly attended worship, and not always with a human companion.

    • Consecration isn’t magic. It is setting apart, a blessing, that marks those physical elements for a unique purpose. Since the traditional Christian teaching on atonement is that only humanity is fallen and in need of redemption, animals can be blessed and are blessed, by God, and do not require the unique redemption reserved for sinful humanity. I know the Quaker understanding now is quite different – that all that God created is sacred, and that all meals are given by God – a communion that permeates the universe. I can follow that understanding and I agree. But the unique nature of the rite of communion marks humanity as in need of unique blessing – having left the ways of the Lord, the rite is for our reconciliation with Him. We become part of Him physically in the partaking, as well as spiritually. As St. Paul said, we are of the earth, earthy.

      All my animals have seemed to have had a love of the church itself, and a innate understanding of reverence for what is sacred.

  2. magdalena,

    I am with you on this one. I have experience with the good, the bad and the acutely embarrassing re animals and worship services along with sacraments.

    I regularly took my former guide dog, Zenia, around 7 years ago now, to the congregation that i attended. (as has been my practice over the past 17 years I’ve been teamed with successive guide dogs. My first had an embarrassing incident with the new carpet of the church I attended back in 1993, (no matter how in touch with one’s dog one is, sometimes unwellness strikes acutely), my second guide dog was a faithful old girl who couldn’t be left alone who had a predelection for joining in with the church choir when certain songs were sung, which brings me to my third old girl, my Zenia, who (little horror that she could be), stole from the deacon passing around the sacraments in said congregation (as was their practice), never to be taken by me to church again. Frum obedient lying under the pew at my left to a lightening fast fluid lunge-grab-retreat!! mercy!! i was mortified!

    Now, my fourth, Aaron, a beautiful golden lab boy has attended church with me from day one and obediently lies beneath the pew at my side, not stirring at all the rising and sitting for creed, hymns etc. a quick check sorted out any hoovering of the carpet the first time I walked with him up to receive communion (and he barely had the chance to try the labbie ‘sit and beg’. From the second attendance onward, he has lain by my side as the officiants give the sacraments. As someone with an almost unique bond to their canine companion, I would nonetheless never ever sanction such misunderstanding of sacramentality and in my view, such a dishonouring action as giving of the sacramental bread to any of my guide dogs. yes, they are God’s creation, Yes, I believe our heavenly Father has watched over all my GD matchings, yes, I pray for successful guiding, and health and happiness for my GD, but, as magdalena has pointed out, he is salvifically neutral, outside of sin and fallenness, not in need of reconcilliation to God.

    I am also acutely aware of the hyper-emotionalism that many view our animal companions with. yes, they are wonderful creations of our heavenly Father, but they are (in this case) dogs, and NOT little humans. Anybody who either works with as part of a GD team or trains guide dogs, working farm dogs, police dogs, rescue dogs, millitary dogs etc will by necesity know a thing or two about canine behaviour, psychology and pack hierarchy/dynamics, and, though they are imbued with emotion – indeed, in the case of the canine example, their world is purely an instinctive/emotional one, fear, happiness, pain, grief, are they pleasing to or out of favour with the Alpha, they are not wired like us, and are uniquely their own being in their own pocket of Creation.

    Yes, Aaron walks up quietly and lies quietly on the floor at my side before and during the reception of communion, and, returns with me to my seat in a distinctly different emotional frame of mind (happy and playful; I’ve got to be firm with him to settle him down by my side again), but he, as non human, stands outside the sin/redemption paradigm, clear and simple.

    RCC theologians had to contend with this almost 800 years ago du to (and if australia’s current mouse plague in Rural areas is anything to go by, still do), the problem of rats and mice getting into the consecrated bread. Were these mice ‘holy’ after eating it?? No. Why? principally (I am not going to elaborate on ‘reason’ and ‘conscent’ here), they did not have the need. They did and do not need salvation. They are outside of the sin/reconciliation paradigm.

    Just a few thoughts.

    Good work on addressing this, Magdalena. –

    • The whole dog takes communion issue was a huge tempest in a teapot here and in the UK. The part of it I found really unhappy was that someone took an internal church matter and splashed it all over the newspapers. This must have been yet another move in the stupid church political games Anglicans are running. Okay, I turned it into a teaching moment, and I don’t condemn the priest for her lack of discretion or knowledge. If the Church won’t insist on proper education then it is the Church’s own fault. (This is becoming an Anglicans-only comment!) But we make ourselves to look like fools when we bicker and name-call and get angry over minor points of theological practice. Yes, salvation is the keystone in Christian salvation, but as to whether the host is consecrated for the use of dogs is not important. We have a huge rift in the Anglican Church between comfortable pewsitters who go home after worship to a good meal, and millions elsewhere who struggle to obtain clean water and enough food to keep life in their frail bodies. First-world Anglicans are, for the most part, spoiled aristocrats in the Christian world, and need to get up and out into the streets and fields to get some real work done. There’s no question of whether we are looking back when plowing; we aren’t plowing at all! We have plenty of time and energy for silly disputes because we think we don’t need to work in the Lord’s harvest. As St. Paul said, “Those who don’t work won’t eat!” And that puts the communion table into a new light, doesn’t it? Although we are unworthy, the Lord still feeds us. Yet that table of equality is given only in symbol; we don’t “sit at table” with the very poorest; we eat, they don’t.

  3. Magdalena,

    I cannot for the life of me understand why people leeak such things to the media; whatever their reasoning, the results are always distressing as the Church, by hook or by crook, shows itself/is shown in a ludicrous light.

    Do you think these are smoke and mirrors sideshows to take the heat off first world consciences re the fact that people ARE starving and that a full third of our fellows will go to bed tonight without food to eat and either do not know when their next meal will come around, or know that it will be too sparcely spaced and furnished to keep body and soul together healthily.

    As a first world church, we have not only lost the way, it has been dash fair obliterated from the map as collective eyes are closed to the disgraceful realities of life. In Australia, we have 100,000 persons who are homeless; yes, this figure is accurate and up to date!! of this, 20,000 are families – yes – whole families – homeless!!

    I expect Canadian stats are not too discimilar per capita.

    And what is the church doing? If I had my way, I’d open this place up!! (my hubby would have a coronary, though!!)

    And what is the First World Anglican church doing to be matt 25: 34-40 to its brethren in the under-developped and developing world be they on the Lambeth or GAFCON side of the coin??

    What are we doing; what are our churches doing locally; worrying about the greying of the pews or whether they’re the bearers of the non liberalized ‘truth’, theologically right, ensuring we invite our neighbours along so that they can dedicate their live’s to Calvanist Christianity for the salvation of their souls, or lifting up the homeless, the single parent family next door, the refugee family newly arrived, those crippled by alcohol and mental illness who linger around the local railway station, bus interchange, shopping centre… or those in the Pakistani high country, numerous African nations, etc before we can even think of addressing matters of internal spiritual import… I feel your heavy heart, deep sadness frustration and righteous indignation at the ridiculous and grossly imature & Christ-mocking childish politics that has descended upon the WWAC.

    I am finding that, more and more, the atmosphere (within the body of Christ) is veering away from the matt. 25: 34-40 and James perspective to one in which evangelicalism is seen as paramount – as hard working organizations such as Anglicare are not given the support by the diocese that they should because it is too narrowly focused upon evangelism and evangelicalism in my thinking, all I can do is pray – pray in heartfelt, almost angry despiration, for the lunacy to end once and for all, and the Gospel be truly lived out by the Body of Christ.




    • The Church often reflects the Culture rather than critiquing it. In a self-absorbed world, the church members will be self-absorbed, as will the general culture of the church. Working to be outward-focussed with a strong spiritual life is very difficult right now. many of us who are still feisty about the gospel are showing our disdain for the worldly church in how we live and dress!

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