A congregation of humans and animals gathered in the setting sun Wednesday to receive a special blessing.
Heads bowed and tails wagged as the words of St. Francis Assisi were recited during the ninth annual “A Blessing of Animals.”
The ceremony on the parking lot of the Paramount Arts Center was sponsored by Calvary Episcopal Church and First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). It drew dozens of four- and two-legged creatures, which greeted one another in their respective ways.
“There is a celebratory nature to it. It’s a fun time,” said Dr. Ike Nicholson, senior minister of First Christian.
“Pets are obviously an important part of everyone’s life, and I think this is an opportunity to come and be with friends and family and people who share the same love of pets,” he said.
Many attendees, he said, are people of God who feel it’s important to take time to ask God to bless their pets as they would their human loved ones.
“We have had three pets blessed and it is just something we believe in,” said Tim Moran. “They are a part of our lives.”
Moran and Brandon Sturgill brought their newest dog, Daisy, a rescued Chihuahua, for blessings.
“They bring us a lot of joy and happiness. They do a lot for us,” Sturgill explained.
The unconditional love animals give humans, said the Rev. Antoinette “Mother T.J.” Azar, rector of Calvary Episcopal, is what draws so many to the event each year.
“Animals give us Christ-like love. It is the love that is given freely, and requires nothing in return. Christ-like love is knowing not only the best, but the absolute worst of someone else and loving that person anyway. It is cradling the soul and the heart of the other person. That is Christ-like love, and animals give us that every day,” Azar said.
“God calls us into relationship with one another and has given us stewardship over all the creatures on Earth and the Earth itself. And, we are called to use those animals wisely, to take some of them as companions and to honor their purpose in our lives and the life of creation. For some people, the brokenness of relationships in their lives has made that association with an animal even more important,” the rector said.
Animals, Azar said, provide comfort and companionship to those struggling with an array of human maladies, from the emotional to the physical.
Belinda Young of Ashland can attest to that. She brought the family’s new pet, an African side-neck turtle named Long Neck, to the event. Young said the family, which belongs to First Christian, has been going through a rough patch of late and thought, ‘Why not?”
“I have not ever done the blessing of any animal,” Young said. Her children, Lillian and John, were clearly enjoying the event, too.
John Young excitedly visited some horses before becoming fascinated by Marshmallow Fluff, an albino hamster owned by Caroline Pullem, 8. The girl said her pet was new to the family, adding she also brought Shadow, her grandmother’s cat.
“They both haven’t been before because you take a different pet every year,” Caroline’s sister, Jordi, 10, explained.
“It is just a good thing, and I can do it,” said Henri Eastman, the girls’ grandmother. “If I hadn’t heard of it (the blessing), I wouldn’t know any better. But if you know about it, you do better,” she said.