Worshipers that might sometimes fight like cats and dogs set aside their differences for a blessed hour Sunday evening to unite in an annual rite.
About three dozen canines – and one feline – attended Millbrook Baptist Church’s third Blessing of the Animals, turning the church’s sacred garden temporarily into an outdoor sanctuary and dog park.
The Bassett hound and the boxer mix, the shiih tzu and the shelter rescue, all were welcomed as creatures of God.
“You have already been a blessing,” the Rev. Andrea Dellinger Jones said to the pets. “May you be blessed.”
Animal blessings – a remembrance of when St. Francis of Assisi called all animals, wild and tame, brothers and sisters to mankind – have grown in popularity. Several are held in the Triangle each fall to recognize the ways in which animals enrich the lives of people who love and care for them.
For Sunday’s service Millbrook’s associate pastor, Bob Stillerman, read the creation narrative from the book of Genesis in which God brought forth animals to inhabit the waters, earth and sky, “every living creature that moves.”
In the congregation, the animals seemed to stop moving for most of the service, sitting in their owners’ laps or on the ground at their feet.
“It’s amazing how they settle down,” Stillerman said after the service. He had dog hair on his pastoral robe. “They seem to know it’s for them.”
It’s also for their owners, many of whom feel a deep connection to animals they take into their homes and look after for nearly as long as it takes to raise a child to adulthood. In addition to the pets they brought on leashes or in carriers, owners asked blessings on pets whose pictures – or memories – they carried.
Neither Jones nor Stillerman has a pet now. But Jones said the blessing service is an opportunity to acknowledge that animals “help us become better people because of their love.” It was also a chance to collect some gifts of cash and supplies for the Wake County Animal Center and, Stillerman said, a moment in which to remind people of faith that while God gave man dominion over animals, that’s not a license to abuse them.
At previous events, Stillerman said, he and Jones have blessed a turtle, a hamster and a guinea pig. No snakes. Yet.
Gabrielle and Victor Keffer brought their 6-year-old Scottie dog, Charleston, who is dying of bladder cancer. “We had to get him blessed,” Gabrielle said. “He’s been the best dog.”
A few seats over, Rane, a chihuahua-terrier mix, growled and yapped through part of the service despite the admonitions of his owner, Susan Pearce, who grew up at Millbrook Baptist.
“He was filled with the spirit,” she said afterward. “He’s Pentecostal.”