Interim minister, service dog join Lincoln church

Interim minister, service dog join Lincoln church

Chapel Street Congregational Church interim minister, the Rev. Katherine Henry, gives her therapy dog, Bear, a treat in exchange for his paw. Henry, a Barrington resident, replaces the Rev. George Peters, who retired from the Lincoln church in June. (VALLEY BREEZE PHOTO BY MEGHAN KAVANAUGH)

LINCOLN - Parishioners at Chapel Street Congregational Church have welcomed an interim minister - and her service dog - to Lincoln.

The Rev. Katherine Henry, of Barrington, and her golden Labrador retriever, Bear, became a part of the church Sept. 3, and are expected to stay for at least another year.

"I love this church already," she said, calling it a healthy merger of the Pawtucket Congregational Church and Sayles Memorial Congregational Church. "They each fulfilled a need in one another."

Henry, who follows the retirement of the Rev. George Peters in June, has been a minister for 35 years, serving in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, including Park Place Congregational Church in Pawtucket.

A former school teacher, she earned a master of divinity and doctorate in ministry from Andover Newton Theological School in 1981 and 1993, respectively.

Bear came into Henry's life a year and a half ago, she said, when she rescued him from a kill shelter in North Carolina and had him officially certified as a therapy dog.

Well behaved and mild mannered, the 7-year-old seems most content lounging at the foot of the chair, or patiently waiting for someone to scratch behind his ears. It made him an ideal companion for a minister, Henry said, explaining that just the presence of a dog can calm down parishioners in counseling, marriage preparation courses or education settings.

"He really makes a difference," she said, especially with young people. "His main purpose in life is loving people."

Henry is enthusiastic about bringing people together within the church and throughout the community. She is a strong believer in mission trips, and has traveled to Guatemala, where one of her four grandchildren was born, as well as Africa, where she embarked on a yoga safari.

She is not afraid of shaking up routine, and has been known to hold jazz services in January. It's a time when Christmas is over, bills need to be paid and "no one feels good," Henry explained, so everyone could use a boost.

"I bring a lot of excitement, a lot of love to what I do," she said. "I'm a good coach. The point of going to church is that together, we can really make a difference."

Bear will be by her side throughout her time at Chapel Street Congregational, though she notes he stays home on Sundays and if anyone is allergic.

But the church's annual Blessing of the Animals? There's no chance he'll miss that, she said.