Sundays at Bellbrae Uniting Church are furry and friendly, as these pictures from a recent service show.
“We take pride in being a place where all who come to us find a warm welcome for themselves and their animal companions,” Bellbrae member Carleen Thoernberg said.
“We have three or four regular dogs and lots of visiting canines and the occasional guinea pig.
“On the Sunday pictured two of the dogs were visitors who had never been invited into church before. They had a great time with two of our regular dogs.”
Also at that service rescue dog Gypsy Jill was introduced to the congregation by Garry, a regular visitor from Ballarat.
But the canines weren’t the only creatures on show.
Six-year-old Beatrix Van der Sant also brought along her guinea pig Milkshake, otherwise known as Milky.
Whenever they stay with their grandparents, Beatrix and her sister Neve attend the church and help run the attached book shop and op shop.
“Bea is a ball of dynamite especially after she has examined the free-for- children boxes we have in both shops,” Carleen said.
Bellbrae is located near Torquay and the surfing mecca of Bells Beach, so the small congregation gets a regular flow of visitors.
“We are all different and rejoice in our differences and the fact that our visitors and occasional worshippers feel so at home,” Carleen said, adding that many linger after each service to enjoy “real” coffee and scones.
As one of four linked Surf Coast Uniting Churches that rotate having services with a minister, Sundays at Bellbrae are often a bit different.
“On our second Sunday we have a guest minister or a lay preacher and that is our talking day; we love to discuss things during worship. All opinions are valued,” Carleen said.
“Sometimes the reflection/discussion goes on so long that we are still talking an hour-and-a-half after our service begins. All the ministers who come to us are comfortable with our questioning and desire to discuss things.
“Once a month we have a service planned by our worship team, which can include some or all of us.”
Music is a strong point of the church.
“We have our very own band, which includes piano, cornet, violin and sometimes guitar as well. We love to sing,” Carleen said.
On fifth Sundays of the month Bellbrae has café church.
On some occasions the congregation participates in a Taize service, which is an ecumenical and contemplative style of worship based around singing, chanting and readings.