HAWTHORNE, NJ - St. Clement's Episcopal Church is always on the lookout to bring the church to the people, and so bring the people to the church. And some of those parishioners aren't just people, but their dogs as well. The Rev. Deacon Erik Soldwedel, coming from a background in sales prior to his ordination, is the deacon-in-residence of the brick church with its bold red doors on Lafayette Avenue. He spoke with TAPinto Hawthorne and shared his genuine enthusiasm for extending a new opportunity for worship services.
"Mass in the Grass" will be held for the first time at St. Clement's Episcopal Church on Saturday, June 2, at 6:00 p.m. on the small but verdant lawn just outside the church. A sign outside declares, "Dogs are welcome".
One typically thinks of church services on a Sunday. Rev. Soldwedel hopes that having an opportunity on a Saturday evening will be appealing for those who would like to attend, but are working, or are otherwise unavailable during the traditional Sunday mornings. "It's been done in other churches," he said, sitting in his modest but scholarly office, where shelved books were intermingled with religious objects and photos. "Hillsdale; it's been done for years in St. Mark's in Teaneck. It's 'come as you are'. I thought it was a great idea where, here, we have a lot of people who work multiple jobs and this gives them an alternative."
The congregation is one which includes a number of dog owners, Rev. Soldwedel among them. Melissa Lambert, one of the church wardens, said, "I had suggested adding the pets after reading about in St. George's-by-the-River in Rumson, New Jersey, in the New Jersey Monthly Magazine. Pets are really part of the family in almost every way, why not church services?"
"This is a congregation that thinks beyond its own walls. Doing 'Mass in the Grass' gives an opportunity to do something different," Soldwedel said.
St. Clement's describes itself as a "barrier-free" church, and, as part of the Anglican Communion, is both local and global in its mission as well as its membership. With regards to Saturday's service, it is open to animals, too. "Our parish has always been 'pet friendly', donating to the RABARI [Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge], Wayne Animal Shelters, and doing the Annual Pet Blessings," Lambert said. "This just felt like a natural extension of what we were doing. If these services go well we will be looking for other ways to serve the people and pets of Hawthorne."
Those who wish to attend should bring a folding chair or lawn chair for what will be a relatively short mass. "We are going to be using Steven Shakespeare's Prayers for an Inclusive Church. We are being called in 2018 to find out where God is calling us in the neighborhood. And I've never been in a congregation that is so wonderfully tied to their dogs and cats, especially their dogs," said Soldwedel. "What people will do with dogs is phenomenal." If it begins to rain on the outdoor service, it will be continued indoors inside the chapel or the main part of the church if needed. "They can bring their animals in. God's house is open to all."
Both Lambert and Soldwedel are optimistic about the new Saturday service option. "I'm excited about it," he said. "This has always been a church that has been willing to try."
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