Inscribed on the Lord’s Table at St. Mark’s UMC are the words, “God of Creation and Redemption.” It is a reminder that all of God’s created are invited here to be blessed through sacrament and through prayer. It is fitting then, that Jake the Church Dog often finds his resting place at the foot of that table. Indeed, Jake has been blessed by, and is a blessing to, many people in this church.
As Rev. Jeri Newell-Davis explained, “God created everything, and it is good. I believe dogs have been given a spiritual purpose.”
When Rev. Jeri and her husband considered adding a pet to their home in 2015, they decided to raise puppies for Guide Dogs of America, never intending to keep a dog longer than 18 months at a time. “We weren’t looking for a ‘forever’ pet,” explained Rev. Jeri. Beginning at eight weeks old, Jake donned a little red cape and went everywhere with the Newell-Davis family – parks, theaters, restaurants, and church – all the while learning the basics of good canine citizenship. As Jake became accustomed to life at church, the church became accustomed to life with him, especially the children.
“The toddlers in our preschool learned to practice restraint around Jake. Older children were instructed in dog etiquette that will serve them outside the school grounds. During monthly chapel times on the steps in the Sanctuary, the children learned to treat Jake with kindness and gentleness,” said Rev. Jeri. And, when it came time for Jake to return to Guide Dogs of America for continued training and eventual placement with a blind companion, it was perhaps the children who grieved losing Jake the most. In May of 2016, while Jake sat on the Chancel steps, the pastors and members at St. Mark’s prayed for Jake and the service he would provide in his new home. The goodbyes from the children, and the congregation as well, were tearful.
Four months later, Rev. Jeri received an unexpected phone call. Jake was not going to make it as a guide dog. He was too protective. So, in August of 2016, Jake was brought home to San Diego to become a permanent member of the Newell-Davis home and of the church.
The return of Jake to St. Mark’s became a profound teaching moment for the children and for the congregation. “During the children’s sermon, I explained that sometimes things don’t work out the way we want them to,” said Rev. Jeri. “Sometimes we stop going to church. But, we can always go back. Jesus always loves you.” With that, Jake was let off of his lead at the back of the church and bounded toward the Chancel to the delight of everyone.
Since then, Jake has taken to his role as the Church Dog. “He has intuitiveness to people and their emotions that cannot be trained into or out of a dog,” remarked Rev. Jeri. Jake accompanies Rev. Jeri to her office each day, and is present for pastoral visits, often resting his head on the leg of someone in need of comfort and providing a sense of protection.
On May 30th, Jake passed his Canine Good Citizen Training Test, and he is now on his way to becoming a therapy dog. When Rev. Jeri visits patients in hospitals and nursing homes, Jake will soon be at her side. Jake the Church Dog has found his purpose — offering a blessing to those who cannot physically make it to the Lord’s Table at St. Mark’s where Jake has found his forever home.