Morning Worship: Animals in our lives can be angels from God

“How many of you have pets — dogs, cats or other creatures?” Bishop John Chane asked the congregation at Monday’s 9:15 a.m. morning worship service. His sermon title was “Lessons of Joy and Unconditional Love,” and the Scripture text was Genesis 2:18-19, Adam naming the animals in the Garden of Eden.

Chane grew up with dogs, and he said that his family gave them some distinctive names. There was Heidi, Keeshan (named for Bob Keeshan, aka Captain Kangaroo), Margaret Thatcher, Dick Butkus, Little Grace Underfire and Samuel Seabury, the first American Episcopal bishop.

Chane’s sermon centered on life with Samuel Seabury, whom he called “Sammy.” Sammy was an English bulldog who captured the heart of everyone he met.

“Sammy had an effervescent personality and was loyal, curious, protective, fun-loving and people-centered,” Chane said. “He was a splendid and mysterious gift from God who made life more fulfilling and brought joy, comfort and love to our family and friends.”

Sammy was adopted from breeders who thought him too rambunctious to be a show dog. Chane called Sammy his “third son,” one who was always 5 years old. Growing up in San Diego, Sammy was a beach dog and a bulldog that could actually swim.

“He loved to play, and he taught children and athletes that playing was more important than winning,” Chane said.

Washingtonian magazine did a feature on Chane when he first went to Washington, D.C., as the district’s Episcopal bishop. The magazine needed photos for the feature and used one with Chane sitting on the steps of the church with Sammy.

“I thought it was a good picture of me,” Chane said, “but everywhere I went, all people said was, ’Great picture of Sammy.’ “

When Chane was asked to preach at a local school’s annual “Grandparents Day,” he felt unprepared; he asked his wife, Karen, to bring Sammy to the school. Chane said he talked for a few minutes about not judging a book by its cover, and then he allowed Sammy to roam among the children sitting on the floor.

“He was not the prettiest creature,” Chane said, “but he was a lover, and he kissed as many of the children as he could, and they patted him and scratched him behind the ears. After that, he got a lot of Christmas presents.”

Bulldogs usually live nine or 10 years, Chane said, but Sammy lived to be almost 13 years old. The dog fell asleep beside the Chanes’ bed, and they found him there in the morning.

“God had called him home, and Sammy had finally said yes,” Chane said, with tears in his voice.

“This may be bad theology, but I don’t care,” he continued. “God gives us the ‘Sammys’ of the world to remind us of what is important in life. Life is a gift that should be lived well, lived with enthusiasm and joy. Life should be deeply shared, and if it is not shared, it is not authentic and real.”

“I believe we are visited by angels in many forms,” he continued. “Sammy was an angel. Who might your angels be? Who makes you think about what’s important in life?”

Joan Brown Campbell presided. The Rev. James Hubbard, an Episcopal priest from Clifford, Va., and a member of the Motet Choir, read the Scripture. The Motet Choir, under the direction of Jared Jacobsen, sang “Lord, You have Searched Me,” a setting of Psalm 139 by George Frideric Handel and arranged by Hal Hopson.