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It happened one Sunday morning in my previous church, and I didn't notice it until I began to preach. A dog had joined the worship service. What I earlier thought to be a hungry tummy turned out to be an authentic growl from a scruffy, black-and-white mutt pacing near the rear of our colonial sanctuary. His leash led to a thin, dark-haired woman-a stranger-who, like her dog, seemed vaguely uncomfortable.
That made three of us.
She must be blind, and that's her seeing-eye dog, I surmised. Then I saw her reading the bulletin.
When the dog persisted in yipping, the congregation began to fidget, and I realized I had only seconds to consider my options. I could try a little humor ("Is my preaching going to the dogs?"); I could boldly instruct the ushers to remove the beast; or I could get on with preaching and hope he didn't bite anyone before the benediction.
I took option three. I preached with one eye on my notes and one eye on the dog. As my sermon wore on, I grew increasingly angry. Why has this woman brought her dog to church? And where are those ushers? It didn't help matters when, halfway through my sermon, I glanced back and saw our little friend curled up asleep. I certainly didn't need more of that!
After a quick benediction, I hurried through the crowd to find our two visitors, but they had slipped out a side door. In my haste, I brushed past Hazel, a meek, gray-haired deaconess, who motioned that she had an urgent message. When she got me aside, she whispered, "Did you see the dog in church today?"
"Why, yes I did, Hazel, and I'd like to know exactly why it was there."
"It's rather complicated, but let me try to explain."
I nodded, and Hazel began to talk-quietly, slowly, with a sadness that puzzled me. She said she had been cleaning up after Sunday school when the young woman, crying and visibly shaking, had come into the church kitchen with her dog. Hazel offered her a warm cup of coffee, and before long the woman was sharing her story.
"My husband has been beating ...