The Dog Whipper

Sometimes, reading church history can open up reason for saying… “wait… what?”

This was one of those moments. This morning I was reading the second volume of “The Review of the Churches“. Surely you’ve read this too, right? Well, in the (likely) event that you haven’t, let me introduce you to it. Likely you will not want to read it any time near bed time or in a comfortable chair. I recommend a hard, wooden chair with the front door open on the north facing side of the house and the outside temperature no warmer than 40 degrees. That should be sufficient.

Actually the reading has been quite interesting. It is always an enjoyable experience (at least for me) to read what kinds of issues churches, pastors, missionaries, and congregants were dealing with in different eras of church history and on various continents. In reading these essays or articles on church life, one learns to appreciate today more and even see that the good old days weren’t always what we think they were.

In 1659, there were reports of churches in Europe electing someone to be the head dog whipper. Yes, dog whipper. Apparently there was a problem of unruly dogs wanting to come to church. So to remedy this growing problem, churches would elect someone to be in charge of whipping the unruly dogs that showed up so they would leave the meetinghouse.

The duty of dog whipper, like many other duties in churches, grow with added responsibilities.

One of those duties included the responsibility of helping the attendees from falling asleep. Here is how the Review of the Churches reported this duty laid upon the dog whipper.

Money was often bequeathed to endow this office; in one instance, one Richard Dovey, in 1659, made a bequest to the parish of Claverly, Salop, of eight shillings per annum, but in addition to his duties as dog whipper, the official was to keep people awake during service. In connection with the latter duty some curious facts come to light.

People seem charged with being unusually drowsy at Wimborne Minster, for the beadles (writes C. E. K.) during the reading of each lesson, make the circuit of the church, crossing the chancel, going down one aisle and up the other, carrying short black staves which they use to awaken sleepers. At Dunchurch a somewhat difficult implement was employed for the same purpose. This was a stick shaped like a hay-fork, which was fitted on to the sleeper’s neck, and it was, no doubt, when well pushed home, sufficienly effectual. As recently as fifty years ago one of the churchwardens of Action Church, Cheshire, used to walk round during service-time with a long wand, with which he gave a tap on the head to anyone who seemed to need such a reminder.

In one parish of which I have an account, the arrangement for waking sleepers was remarkable complete. The official who walked about the church had a long wand with a knob at one end for the men and boys, and a fox’s brush at the other, with which he tickled the nostrils of the ladies whom he happened to find dozing. This delicate treatment of the fair sex, even in their erring moments, is worthy of all commendation, but it is easy to picture to oneself what the effect of even so tender an application was likely to be.

It is likely, I’m not interested in ever electing anyone to the office of dog whipper, but I’m open to the office of chief waker-upper.

Dog Whipper

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