For over a year, my beloved has humored me in the maintenance of a porch cat.
This is my fourth porch cat. They are strays who hang around the house (“friendlies”) but do not want to come in. They often run away when people get too close, or noises get too loud. Or they can’t bear to stay inside, so if you bring them in, they take their nap or eat their meal and then yowl horribly until you let them out to resume their wanderings.
So the fact that Scruffie has been coming in doesn’t really mean that we’re about to have another cat.
Still, it’s big that he has begun trying to come in. He’s gotten himself over the threshhold — which on the first occasion was all he could manage before panic took over — and now is trying to explore the interconnected open spaces just inside our front door.
There are cautions on our side as well. For one thing, he brings fleas, and they have, in the past, caused my beloved’s chemical system to erupt on violent welts and hives. So until he lets me touch the back of his neck long enough to apply some flea killer, I cannot embrace his courage as fully as I would like.
And if he comes in for any length of time, what about a litter box? I have loved not having that job!
A variation on that theme: as an unfixed male, he has a history of spraying. Lately he has not been spraying here, but in the past, he did. Perhaps if this becomes more of a home, he’ll try it again.
And then, how will he respond to the intermittent, but totally inevitable, irregularities of movement, sound, and behavior that Huntington’s Disease cause my beloved to experience and exhibit? It’s fine if he bolts for the door, but we have to be sure he won’t hiss, swipe at her with open claws, attempt to bite.
For a long time, for all these reasons, and because we were stabilizing her situation, my beloved insisted we should not let him in. But over the long, soft New England spring he has visibly relaxed and reached out. Sometimes he ignores the food I offer, in favor of coming in.
Today, he came in. He sat down. He stayed there for a minute or more, amongst the shoes whose scent he knows as home. Then he carefully headed through the open door toward the bedroom. Sadly, at that point, because we haven’t yet done the flea thing, I had to take only one step in his direction, and out he ran. Past the food dish, off into the neighborhood.
Caring for my porch cat has only been possible because neighbors do it with me. Others who feed him let me know how he looks, what he eats. To make his winter home, I consulted a website.
And I have a neighbor who already has a successful porch cat. Hers recently came in at bedtime, slept on the foot of her bed for five hours. This, of course, is what any pet parent dreams of. But that was just once; I see her inside cat outside more often than she sees her porch cat on her bed.
It doesn’t take a genius to see what this means for organized liberal religion. If a majority of potentially religious folk now consider themselves “free range,” then bringing them into covenant with us — making available to them the refuge of our faith messages in hard times — is going to be slow and tedious. It will require sustained membership mentors who themselves require ministerial and personal support. Encouragement. Tactical advice. Money for supplies. And lots of food.
Hartford Seminary assembled some religious demographic info for this decade, and the median size of a congregation is still 75 people. Half of all congregations, in other words, are that small. These are the seedlings of organized religion. Some are weeds — cults and charlatans. But others are the flower and vegetable gardens of spirituality, carefully cultivating both the miracles of expression and the necessities of nutrition.
Store fronts. Meet-ups. Web chats. Small groups. These are the nurseries from which to replant the solid rows of occupants for our pews. It won’t make the evening news and it won’t make denominational headlines. They might not even last more than a few decades. But if we’re going to bring in the porch cats, there won’t be any other way.