A Labrador and the Divine

by Sydney Giovenco

On the strange events that take place in a small church on a Sunday morning when a most friendly Black Labrador pays an unexpected visit to the congregation.

It was a Sunday morning. Not a cloud in the sky and the cool breeze from the lake bore signs of an early spring. We were on the road; on the way to the small church we attend every Sunday—a good eight miles away from home. The ride is always enjoyable and whether it is spring or winter we think nothing of the distance.

On this particularly bright Sunday morning we arrived late at what was to be an important service. Pastor Johnson, recently called by the church board, was being installed. For this occasion the denomination’s Superintendent was officiating. The service was already in progress when we entered the auditorium. We looked at the last empty pew to our immediate right and sat there, trying to draw the least attention and not to disturb others.

As we joined the service already in progress, the choir rose up to sing “Lord, I Stretch my Hands to You.” This was followed by a moment of silent prayer and special music by Mary Reed. A moment later, selected verses from the Old and New Testaments were read from the right podium by a member of the congregation.

Immediately after the reading of the scriptures the Superintendent rose up to deliver his sermon. Approaching the podium on the left and standing behind it, he proceeded to make some brief introductory and informal remarks directed at the congregation in general and pastor Johnson in particular, hoping to get everyone into an even more receptive frame of mind. Then, adopting a formal composure, he settled into the explicatory and expository aspects of his sermon.

As his homily progressed it became clear what the good Superintendent had chosen for his topic—unity within the church and a belief in the healing and intervening power of the Divine. Central to this were also “certain” recent divisive issues within the congregation, mainly the church’s present liturgical form, the church’s protocol, and the new praise music.

Soon the Superintendent’s message settled into the minds of the congregation. The congregation seemed to go along with the Superintendent but remained tense. One could sense it.

At a precise moment in time and out of nowhere, a most beautiful Black Labrador Retriever made an unannounced entry into the church sanctuary. The unexpected sixty-pound rambunctious Labrador entered the church through the right aisle at full speed. Panting, saliva dripping, and wagging its tail, the dog ran straight up to the altar. There it merrily circled twice round it and then it ran to “greet” pastor Johnson who was seated at the right of the altar and behind the right podium; then, tail-wagging still and slobbering saliva, it approached the Superintendent.

Totally taken by surprise the Superintendent could not decide whether to go on with his sermon or attend to the unexpected visiting Labrador that stood by his side—at times staring at him, panting with joy, and licking his left hand as he stood by the left podium.

Not remaining at the altar more than two minutes, the Labrador sped down the left aisle to the center of the church where it stopped to nuzzle up to a young boy before crossing through the center of the auditorium to the right aisle. The Labrador’s visit came to an end as Doctor Dennis grabbed the big beautiful dog by its collar and escorted it out the church through the front door, which had been left wide open.

It took but a brief moment for the congregation to become aware of the Black Labrador’s presence at the altar but when it did, it roared with laughter at his behavior. Moments later, as the congregation regained its composure; the Superintendent went on to complete the explicatory and expository aspects of his sermon.

But the mood had changed, those “certain and recent divisive issues within the congregation” (the church’s present liturgical form, and the new Praise Music) seemed to have faded away.

As the service ended and I rose to leave, we were overwhelmed by the happy memory of this Sunday when a most friendly and interesting Black Labrador Retriever paid an unexpected visit to the congregation.

I never found out who the owner of the Black Labrador was. Its sudden appearance was simply explained away as a dog that got away from its owner and entered the church because the front doors had been left open.

But, there were some who prefer to believe that the whole affair was the doings of the Divine causing amusement, provoking laughter and perplexity among a congregation in need of new beginnings.

Sydney Giovenco teaches at Northwestern College, St. Paul, Minnesota.

See all articles by Sydney Giovenco