DALLAS — Dogs with wagging tails and one very wary cat went to church Sunday, Oct. 2. They didn’t pay a lot of attention to the service. They didn’t sing much. But they did get a blessing and that’s what they came for.
Pastor Joseph Rafferty met the furry gathering on the front lawn of the Prince of Peace Episcopal Church, Dallas, for the annual Blessing of the Animals. It was one of many blessing services offered in area churches during the first week of October in honor of the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi on Oct. 4.
“St. Francis is the patron of animals – and the ecology,” Rafferty said. “We do this to honor the saint and his work and to remind each other that we have a responsibility to take care of the earth and the creatures on it.”
Now in its 14th year, the annual service has been known to host horses, goldfish in their bowls, hamsters and all variety of animals. This year, though, the crowd was a bit small, probably because gray clouds overhead threatened to drop water on the service.
One of the parishioners had “threatened” to bring some chickens, but probably decided against it because of the weather, Rafferty said.
“We have come every year,” said Don Hopkins, of Dallas. He and his wife, MaryAnn, had their Corgi, Morgan, on the end of the leash. Morgan loved meeting new people and wanted to play on the lawn with other dogs, wagging her little stub of a tail for most of the afternoon.
Joyce and Mike Bednar, of Dallas, had their black and white cat Kiki in a mesh carrier.
“She was a stray that kept coming to the house,” Joyce said. “Well, it helped that we fed her when she came. But finally, about a year and a half ago, we took her in. And she seems to like living with us. Even with the dogs in the house.”
For the service, Mike hung the carrier strap around his neck and Kiki watched from the her safe spot behind the mesh.
The animals themselves were actually on their best behavior for the service. And they had on their Sunday best. Cookie, a Shih-tzu still very much a puppy at just over a year in age, wore her rhinestone collar and a snappy paisley harness. She even got a bath for the big day.
“We bathed her after church this morning,” said owner Karen Atkinson, of Dallas, who had attended the 9:30 a.m. service and was back for the noon blessing. “We had to use a blow-dryer to be sure she was ready for this.”
Rafferty began with a reading from the Book of Genesis in which God created all of the living creatures and “saw that it was good.”
“Make us mindful of our responsibility to all your creation,” Rafferty prayed. And later, “Bless these animals, our friends, and your creatures. Surround them with your Spirit of life and love and make them a sign to us or your care in all your creation.”
Attendees followed the prayers in a small brochure, gave responses to those prayers and recited the Litany of the Animals along with the rector. The animals respectfully stayed quiet for the service.
Rafferty finished the short prayer service with a blessing for each individual animal, calling each by name, then dismissed the service.
“This is my fourth year at this church,” he said. “And this service is so very special. I am only too pleased to continue it to honor the saint and the animals the people care for so lovingly.”