Daisy and Fred sat on the lawn outside St. John’s Episcopal Church, listening to the Rev. Jimmy Bartz give his Sunday sermon: the story of St. Francis.
Fred was calm, content. Daisy was a bit anxious, alternating between standing and sitting. She smelled the grass and then gave Fred a sniff, too.
Daisy is a 2-year-old border collie/Great Pyrenees mix. Fred is her younger brother — kind of. He’s a 1-year-old Netherland dwarf rabbit. They were awaiting their first blessing.
“We brought them to be blessed because they’ve never been blessed before and because we love them,” said June Darin, 14.
St. John’s holds this special Blessing of the Animals service the first Sunday in October every year to honor pets and the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and ecology. The Rev. Frank Johnson is credited with beginning the church’s yearly critter blessings in 1982.
Though the crowd was a little smaller than in previous years, it was still lively: A dachshund and poodle wore their best Sunday sweaters. A fluffy Samoyed and some scruffy terriers paced back and forth. A menagerie of mutts whined and whimpered while dragging their owners across the lawn, and a Newfoundland sniffed the sidewalk while a ferret named Pickle, who was only a fraction of the dog’s size, sat in her bed nearby.
Around 80 people and two dozen or so pets were blessed.
“It’s just so fun to see people bring these animals that they love to the church to receive a blessing,” Bartz said.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re big kids or grown kids, it just brings that childlike experience out to show up in a church or even in a church yard that’s full of dogs and ferrets and bunny rabbits.”
Many pet owners echoed Bartz’s enjoyment of the event and expressed affection for their animals as a reason for having them blessed.
“It’s something special that the church does every year, and we just love our animals,” said Laura Davenport, who had brought her family, their 12-year-old sheepdog mix, Two Socks, and their two Labradoodle siblings, Frodo and Arwen. “I just think it’s a fun thing to do as part of the family. We were just kind of laughing about going to church with the dogs today.”
Others hoped the blessing might improve the behavior of their pet.
“He’s kind of naughty,” said Kaya Kandolin, 14, of Alby, her family’s 3-month-old black mouth cur. “He needs to be blessed.”
At the other end of the spectrum, some senior pets were brought to be blessed because of their age. One was Wilson, a Samoyed who has now been blessed eight times.
“He needed it,” owner Leslye Hardie said. “He’s on borrowed time!”
While the pets were not individually greeted by the reverend this year, they received a collective blessing, to which many barked and howled as their owners prayed: “O God, we thank you for all the creatures you have made, so perfect in their kind.”
“Usually we’re all piled into the church, and usually we give each animal an individual blessing,” Bartz said.
“They’ll come to one of the three clergy, and we’ll put our hands on them and bless them. This year, it’s just not safe to be that close to folks, so that’s why we spread out on the grass.”
The church also collected animal food donations for the Jackson Cupboard to be shared with the pets of community members in need.