Chaplain Norris Burkes (copy) (copy) (copy) (copy)

Chaplain Norris Burkes

I’m a chaplain who doesn’t always like to go to church. Truthfully, some churches make me uncomfortable.

Such was my discovery last week when my wife Becky and I visited Chicago, covering the town for museums, shows and restaurants.

Our tour took us in close proximity to the historic Lincoln Park Presbyterian Church. So, feeling a need to step outside our comfortable Baptist tradition, we attended the 10:30 service.

Walking inside, we heard the wood floors creak and felt dwarfed by the high ceiling bending in sharp angles. Stained glass framed a cross above the altar. The pipe organist played, “’’Tis so Sweet to Trust in Jesus.”

The church’s website identified the congregation as “multi-generational, diverse and open,” but like a lot of city churches these days, they filled only about 35 percent of the sanctuary. My first impression was that it felt like money, an Up-and-In church — the antithesis of the Down-and-Out Baptist churches I’d pastored in my youth.

The greeters thrust bulletins into our hands and tossed a friendly nod toward hardwood pews. We made a soft landing onto velvet cushions and settled for the 90-minute duration.

That’s when I heard the dogs barking — inside the church.

Clearly the musical question of the hour was, “Who, who let the dogs out?” Or in? The pastor, Dr. Beth Brown, took the pulpit to explain the animal kingdom.

A 40-something pastor, she wore a white blouse, slim blue jeans and baby blue sneakers. With a green priestly stole around her shoulders, she stood in perfect posture.

A warm smile measured her words, and with professorial diction, she declared the day to be the annual “Blessing of the Animals.” Before my wife elbowed me with disapproval, I reminded her that we’d seen the practice in military catholic chapels.

With that, the pastor invited a soloist on stage to sing, “If We Could Talk to the Animals” from Dr. Doolittle. I loved the rendition, but the secular shift surprised me.

My comfort meter was pegging toward “uncomfortable.”

Yet, as awkward as I felt, I had to admit in my judgmental heart that these Presbyterians would probably find my home church unnervingly different too.

After all, my pastor once tossed beach balls into the sanctuary to illustrate Easter joy. Our worship leader inspired us to action by leading us in singing, “Taking Care of Business.” Once, our pastor did a reverse offering, giving people cash to invest back into the community.

I glanced at one wall to see a banner that encouraged congregants to be “Living in Faith. Caring with Courage.”

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From perusing their website earlier, I was aware that the church was on an 18-month mission to explore how they might revitalize the Lincoln Park neighborhood by creating partnerships. They were drawn to the idea of compassion as something needed in their neighborhood, city, country and the world.

I took a second look at the bulletin and saw how the church was assisting the down-and-out by helping them find affordable housing and taking meals to the homeless shelter. They were finding ways to unite their community that included holding a vigil against violence. Wow. These folks weren’t taking a break. Full Godspeed ahead.

Maybe my worship tastes were different than theirs, but they were taking care of business, answering many of the same community needs my church addresses.

For instance, my home church provides worship for a large community of kids with special needs. We help resupply the local shelter. Our members volunteer in libraries, women’s shelters and the downtown mission. We are hip-deep involved in disaster relief, sending folks into the aftermaths of fire, earthquakes and hurricanes.

That day’s service concluded with the pastor blessing all the dogs and cats, as well as some pet pictures. Again, not my personal taste.

However, in a day where some folks work hard to loudly enunciate their political differences, I found some inspiration a church who was ministering to both the Up-and-In and the Down-and-Out.

To that I will always say, “Arf, arf, and amen.”

Contact Chaplain Norris at or 10566 Combie Rd. Suite 6643 Auburn, CA 95602 or voicemail (843) 608-9715.