By Markita South and DSC Communications
Scott and Markita South of New Song UMC in Surprise, AZ brought more than belongings with them when they moved from Hammond, IN. They brought ideas from their Indiana church, and a love for God and His creation. After getting settled, they approached their pastor, Lyndon Mason, about starting an animal ministry.
Start with the end in mind
The couple felt God’s presence strongly when they began this ministry, and they knew God would lead them in the right direction. While they did not know the details, Markita and Scott did begin this new ministry with a purpose.
Scripture reminds us that human beings are given dominion over all the animals of the earth, meaning that God has challenged us to care for them. Scripture also tells us that God expects us to care for one another whenever and wherever possible. With these two directives in mind, this ministry is serving God, our community, and our congregation with their pets.
Unleash the ministry to foster connections
A multi-faceted committee was formed at the church to help develop and carry out the new ministry called Animals 4 God. People with a love of animals were invited to join, whether or not they were pet owners. Once a month the group meets and has fun sharing ideas to fulfill the needs of the congregation and the community, such as animal-assisted visitations, creative fund raisers, and the first Pet Blessing service. This short service, held outside on the patio, was a truly moving experience. Reverend Lyndon Mason, who happens to be allergic to pet dander, blessed each of the 16 animals present with Holy Water. The feedback from that initial service prompted the group to consider adding a second Pet Blessing service per year.
Several new people attend New Song because of the community awareness of Animals 4 God.
There have been many Sundays in which the Pastor has sent people to us that want to know more about our ministry. We continuously thank God for our being accepted and sought out.
Continuously try new ideas and expand the ministry
Stroking an animal has multiple physical and mental health benefits. The ministry began with sharing their pets with residents and staff of nursing homes, hospitals, veterans’ centers, and other shut-ins. Considering the strong bond that can develop between people and their pets, the ministry group is available for those grieving the loss of a pet. Guest speakers are invited to cover topics surrounding pet health, safety, and well-being. Eventually the ministry will support local area humane societies by providing pet supplies and serving as a resource to find foster placements.
Measure effectiveness, celebrate success, and overcome obstacles
At each meeting, the Animals 4 God committee discusses whether they have accomplished their goals, and where they may have fallen short. For instance, the animals were a huge hit at the Youth’s rummage sale last fall.
We were awed watching God do His work using our dogs with some of the younger children at this event. We also know we’ve made a difference in the reading ability of our children after Animals 4 God completed a six-week summer reading program in which children read to the animals. By sharing our dogs, we hope to foster the love and respect for animals into these children while practicing their reading skills. We are now continuing the reading program throughout the year.
In December, along with the customary Giving Tree, food baskets and other assistance to families in need, the ministry group coordinated a Pet Supplies Drive that included a holiday-themed pet photo shoot that turned into a very successful fund raiser. The generosity of the congregation provided food for Maricopa Animal Safe Haven (MASH), as well as much-needed crates and other supplies for Animal Friends Rescue, a local pet foster organization.
This is not to say we have not had any failures. However, we have learned from those failures, and have adjusted our methods so as to make them successful if we choose to try them again. We work together as a team. We listen to each other, and consider each other family – dogs included, of course! With all the opportunities in front of us, we know our prayers are being answered.