We have an unexpected visitor/temporary resident on Market Street. A black lab. His “person” relocated to Jeffersonville to get past a bad situation. This has uprooted both person and dog. They were sleeping in his truck and he called with a simple request. In talking with him I invited him to church – and he came during Holy Week. He found a temp agency he could work for. But the only stipulation was he could not bring the dog with him. He called and asked if there was someone who could do foster care for Jake, his 7 year old black Labrador retriever. None we knew of… sooo….

It ended up that with the fenced yard at the Rectory we had a safe spot for Jake. He would be fine sleeping outside we were told. (Our elderly cats spook easily and a large, strange, black lab would put them over the edge if we brought him into the house.) So we tried it. And Jake was not happy. This was not home, not what he was used to. He barked and cried all night in the strange new circumstance. He was alone with strangers, and the blanket we put out for him was not “his” blanket, his person wasn’t there. And he was unhappy.

Over the past few days we have come to forge a new relationship. He now sleeps in our warm house  right near the warmth of the furnace rather than outside, on blankets that are more and more his. His person comes to visit him daily – and the joy in his eyes and attitude is palpable.  At other times he now comes into the office with me and actually relaxes enough to stop pacing and get some sleep at my feet while I work.

This loving creature of God has, along with his master, been uprooted and thrown into a new and scary situation.  We as a church and as individuals have offered what we can – acceptance, connection, caring and support. And somehow in God’s economy it becomes just enough to help. This parish practices the radical openness of God expressed through generous hospitality. At Holy Week services Jake’s person was engaged in conversation by parish members and a genuine welcome extended. On Easter Jake and his person were welcome guests at a family Easter gathering. Last night Jake attended the inquirer’s class as the weather was getting chilly. Jake’s person is seeing a few more permanent prospects.

How many times have we, like Jake, felt rootless, losing what we have known and relied on, and scared facing the unknown? Where have we found the helping hand that was just enough to provide us with a life line reminding us we are not alone? Those people and communities are often sacred in our memories.

The church is a community of people not a building. We are charged with helping one another in the name of the Lord, not just preserving historic buildings, rites and rituals. Rites, rituals and building are tools that can help us reach out to others but they are not ends or the primary reason for our existence in and of themselves.

I do not know what the future holds for Jake and his person. But I hope and seriously pray that they will be able to find a rootedness – even temporarily – at St Paul’s. And in time and in turn be there as another needs a helping hand (or paw) to feel like life has not been totally up ended and twisted – that another cares and will offer what they can.

In the mean time I hear the low rumbling bark in the back yard telling me another squirrel has invaded what is for now Jake’s territory. And it is time to go to the office and invite Jake to join me, to take a nap and relax for a few minutes dreaming of what the future might be.


About don

The Rev Don Hill is an Episcopal priest, rail fan and writer. He and his wife the Rev. Dr. Nancy Woodworth-Hill are currently Co-Pastors of St Paul's Episcopal Church, Jeffersonville IN, in the Diocese of Indianapolis. They also work as parish consultants in Appreciative Inquiry, strategic planning and spirituality development for parishes and vestries.
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