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Blessing of the Animals – Pet parishioners attend annual church service

The courtyard at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer was filledwith four-legged parishioners Sunday afternoon for the annualBlessing of the Animals.

Dozens of dogs and cats were attended by their owners and cameto receive the blessing from Father Gene Bennett.

“This is a service we do in celebration and service for St.Francis, also known as the patron saint of animals,” Bennett said.”We hold the service each year. It dates back to the MiddleAges.”

In its origins, he said, farmers would deliver their livestockto the priest to receive the blessing.

In modern times, the church sees mostly domesticated householdpets. However, Bennett said he can still be surprised by theanimals brought to the service.

One of the pets being blessed Sunday drew some unusual attentionfrom both owners and other pets.

“I think this is the first possum I’ve ever blessed,” Bennettsaid as laid hands on Gladys, a four-month-old owned by LisaStrickland and being raised at Bamboo Plantation, where she wasfound after she fell off a roof.

Strickland said she was invited to the service by friends, whothought Gladys might benefit from the blessing.

“She was so young when we found her that she has no fear – ofpeople or other animals. She just never learned to fear others,”Strickland said.

Elise Calhoun attended the service with her daughter, AmyArmstrong, to receive a blessing for Armstrong’s four-year-old cat,Precious. They have come to the service each year since finding thestray cat, she said.

However, this year Precious was not alone. The family alsobrought Skittles, a 10-month-old teacup Chihuahua.

“We felt we needed to get our animals blessed,” Calhoun said.”This will be Skittles’ first blessing, but Precious has come everyyear. Their souls need blessings just like ours.”

Despite the variety of species and sizes of pets attending theservice, Calhoun said she has never seen them behaveinappropriately to each other or fight.

“Believe it or not, they must all know this is church,” shesaid. “They always seem to get along.”

In memory of St. Francis, the church also uses the animalblessing ceremony to make an annual contribution to the BrookhavenAnimal Rescue League. This year’s donation was $1,000, said CaroleBennett, president of Angel’s Attic.

Betty Evans, a BARL volunteer, said animals from the shelterwill be taken to the Wesson Flea Market this weekend to providepeople with another opportunity to adopt a dog or cat.