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Being All Things in Canton

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by Sharon Mager, Baltimore Baptist Association Correspondent

If the Apostle Paul lived in Canton, he may very well have been a dog owner. The people of Canton and surrounding neighborhoods love their four-footed furry friends. Canton has one of Baltimore’s only fenced-in dog parks where Fido and pals can romp around without a leash. It was a natural for Canton Baptist Church, literally around the corner from the dog park, to pamper pets in an effort to minister to their community.

“Every Sunday we’d see people walk through the courtyard with their dogs to the dog park,” Steve Wolverton, pastor of Canton Church, said. Wolverton prayed for opportunities to reach those people. The church began envisioning an outside venue where people could come to the church and sit outside with their dogs and still participate in the Sunday morning service and other church events with their dogs.

“AKA – Canine Cathedral,” Wolverton laughed.

That vision became a reality on a beautiful mid-70‘s clear sunny May 12 when the church officially kicked off its “The Dock @ Canton.”

Over 100 dogs of all sizes, and their owners, of all sizes, attended the event. Church members served free hot dogs, barbecue, chips and sodas to visitors. The four-footed variety got their wieners too—in the “bobbing for dogs” area where they braved the dunk in a wading pool to snatch hot dog bits. Some tried to cheat and used their paws to move the meat in a more advantageous position. There was a dog washing station where dogs frolicked and shook. There were keepsake dog prints, and a trick competition. Representatives from dog adoption agencies were on hand to show dogs who needed homes and give out literature. Local businesses partnered with the church. DOGMA donated the shampoo and dog treats. DogHouse Girls have partnered and are going to work with the church to do obedience training classes. Canton Dog Park helped publicize the event.

Visitors and church members relaxed at tables under the canopy, eating, chatting and watching the animals frolic and play. There was a bit of barking and sniffing and minimal snapping.
It was altogether just some doggone fun!

One friendly young man came with two dogs and was chatting amiably with many at the tables. He used to attend the church years ago, he said, but just “got away.”

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“I’m coming back here. Sometimes you just need a kick in the pants to get you back. This was it for me,” he said.

The young man left to take his dogs to the dog park. He assured everyone that he would be back, and that he would also invite other dog owners at the park.

Steve Wolverton is pleased. “We were all very encouraged. We touched base with more neighborhood people at one time with this event than with any other we have had.

“God has blessed us with love from our animals. He has indeed also blessed us with a love for them. The unconditional love we receive from our dogs is such a blessing from God. We can and do use this as a bridge to human hearts as well. I think God is really working through the dogs. It's not the first time He's used animals.”

On Sunday, following the event, the several dog owners and their pets returned and sat outside listening to the sermon.

Regarding the name "the Dock”, Wolverton explained that church members came up with the name after he preached a sermon referring to the coming outdoor venue as a sort of dock out into the community where the church could fish for men.

“It is a place to tie up in the storm of life. Our logo has a picture of a sailboat and it says, ‘Inner Peace for The Inner Harbor – The Church at Canton.’ The dock was also likened unto a cell phone where we can dock it and plug in for recharge and sync,” he explained.