Saint James Episcopal Church
203 E. Glendale St.
P.O. Box 1374
Dillon, MT 59725
406-683-2735 (Cell) 334-332-3222
THE MONTANA JOURNAL
No. 34 – August 27, 2019
NICK THE CHURCH DOG
INTERNATIONAL DOG DAY was this week, so I thought I would celebrate Nick the Church Dog in this issue of The Montana Journal.
Nick is a purebred Border Collie, soon to mark thirteen years with me on the Feast of Saint Nicholas, December 6, 2019. My wife Leigh brought Nick home as a gift in 2006 when we were living at The Elms, a small farm outside Auburn. This remarkable dog and I have spent almost every day together since that day.
He completed three obedience classes and a trick dog course in his early years. They say that the Border Collie, a Scottish breed, is the smartest dog there is, and I believe it. In October 2017, when I was involved in a near-fatal hit-and-run cycling wreck on the Natchez Trace Parkway, I was almost a year in recovery. Leigh had Nick certified as an Emotional Support Animal, a true blessing.
He had been a part of everyday life at St. Dunstan’s, from the beginning. We were there six days a week. The church, parish hall, and gardens were his own. He sat with students in crisis, jilted boyfriends, and lonely freshmen. He played Frisbee, chased sticks, greeted visitors, adored children. He was truly what the English call “a pastoral dog.” And he looks the part! He wears the black-and-white of the clergy. His job is tending the flock. He seldom barks and never bites. He cares for the disabled, the afflicted, and the injured—just as he does for those who think they aren’t.
NICK IS AT HOME in the Episcopal Church—whether it’s St. James in Bozeman for Diocesan Convention, St. Dunstan’s back in Auburn, or our own Saint James Episcopal Church in Dillon. He is present at Sunday Eucharist, but never in an overt or inappropriate way. Nick does not interrupt or take center stage. He stands to the side. He lies quietly at a parishioner’s feet. And he is always quite content to go with me to the local nursing home, rehabilitation center, or assisted living facility.
I don’t know how Nick knows what to do, how to respond to the pastoral needs of the people he meets. At the most demanding settings, like the Pioneer Care Center, Nick has become a “star attraction,” and I am his handler. He is always happy to be approached by someone in a wheelchair or walker, petted, talked to, and held close.
Nick also seems to enjoy special events at church. He was here for our celebration of Saint James Day and the Picnic on the Green on Sunday, July 21. He went to Geoff and Kay’s house for the Wood Bank Picnic. He even attended Clergy Conference at Camp Marshall!
It’s important to remember that an Emotional Support Dog, like any creature, needs time for play, rest, and recovery. Monday is my Sabbath day of rest, and perhaps it doesn’t surprise anyone that Nick rests that day as well.
I have concluded over the years, and especially since my accident and continuing recovery, that everybody could benefit from the kind of emotional support that is so freely and generously given by Nick the Church Dog. I realize that dogs are not liked by everyone, and that some people are allergic, afraid, or have been traumatized by a dog in the past. An important aspect of Nick’s emotional support training is to demonstrate that he is not aggressive, dangerous, or unpredictable
Finally, I want to say that Nick would never have been the dog that he is without the love, care, and training that he has received from my wife of almost 42 years, Leigh. I hope that she will share the story of her own “Wonder Dog” in a future Montana Journal, and the years they shared as a therapy team. But the story of Nick the Church Dog would be far from complete without a tribute to the loving care and patient direction that Leigh has given him—and me!
THE MONTANA JOURNAL
No. 35 – September 6, 2019
A PRIEST IN THE TEMPLE-THE COUNTRY PARSON
GEORGE HERBERT is one of the most celebrated clergymen in Anglican church history. He was born into a wealthy royal family in 1593, during the last years of Queen Elizabeth I’s fifty-year reign. Herbert was educated at Cambridge and well-connected with the court of King James I, but he chose instead to seek holy orders and become a priest, serving a parish church at Bemerton, a tiny village about six miles from Salisbury. Known by his parishioners as “holy Mr. Herbert,” he devoted himself to their care and nurture. George Herbert and his wife adopted her orphaned nieces and brought them to live in the rectory across the lane from the church at Bemerton.
George Herbert was an accomplished poet and wrote religious verse that was recognized in his own day and is today considered among the best English poetry of any age. He is for me personally a benchmark and measure of what a poet and priest should be. Tragically, George Herbert lived only a handful of years in Bemerton before his death at the age of thirty-nine. I think about what he accomplished compared with my almost sixty-seven years and I feel ashamed.
Herbert wrote only one book of prose, a theological and practical manual for clergymen entitled, A Priest to the Temple, or The Country Parson.” The contrast between the two halves of the title is striking, yet rich with meaning. The priest to the temple is a liturgist, a musician, and a composer of messages and sermons. The temple is a place set apart, revered and holy. It is often filled with ornament and symbolism, color and light, brass and silver, music and prayer. In the temple, the priest is most likely the center or focus of attention, the leader of worship, preacher, and the one who pronounces forgiveness. Here in the Temple are found the Sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist, which could be called “holy belonging” and “blessed nourishment.”
The Country Parson is a very different role for this very same person. The parson goes out from the rectory or church to visit the members of the congregation. The parson wears no special garment but the clerical collar. He may take communion to the sick or the dying, but often he goes emptyhanded or with an oil stock. He knows the prayers for the sick by heart and the confession of sin. More importantly, the Country Parson knows how to listen. He is in no hurry. He cares deeply for his people. He loves them. They are his people and the sheep of his pasture. He eats with them, talks with them, comforts them.
For practically all of my ordained ministry I have served in small places, rural churches, missions, and campus ministries. And for much of that time, I have been a priest for two churches. For twenty years, Leigh and I were at St. Dunstan’s in Auburn six days a week (an afternoon and evening schedule) and at smaller Episcopal churches in Opelika, Seale, Tallassee, Tuskegee, and elsewhere on Sunday mornings and afternoons. You might say I was a priest in the temple and a country parson.
Now we begin a new era in Southwest Montana, serving one temple, one congregation, one community. I think it has come at a good time, and most certainly I didn’t feel ready to give up serving as a priest in the temple—or as a country parson. I still love to visit people each week. Nick and I go to Pioneer Care & Rehabiliation Center (where he is something of a Rock Star), then to The Legacy, and Barrett Hospital. On Thursdays, the day is set aside for conversations, which you all know I love! I wish we had more worship services at Saint James, maybe a Bluegrass Eucharist during the week or Morning Prayer, but that will happen in time. Meanwhile, I’m happy to be here, doing the work I believe I was called to do. Give me a call, or drop in for a visit!