Some unusual guests attended the Sunday service at the St. Clare of Assisi Episcopal Church in Avery on Oct. 13.
In honor of St. Francis and St. Clare, who were both known for their love of animals, the church welcomed the companion animals of congregants for a special blessing ceremony.
Following an opening hymn, Rev. Michael Backlund, PhD, addressed the congregation.
“We do this to acknowledge how our lives have been blessed by the life and witness of both of these saints, and by our animal friends,” he said.
After speaking on the meaning of the ceremony, Backlund followed with a prayer.
“Oh God, you have made all living things. We thank you for giving us our animal companions. As you take care of us, so also we ask your help that we may take care of those who trust us to look after them. By doing this, we share in your own love for all creation,” he said.
Backlund called the gathering’s attention to an altar in honor of St. Clare on the side of the room, on which were placed numerous candles.
“At this time in the service, what I like to do when we bless our pets is also to remember the animal companions that have gone before us and are no longer with us,” Backlund said.
Backlund invited congregants to light a candle following the service on the altar in memory of pets that have passed away.
“And now comes the fun part,” Backlund said.
Organist and Music Director Carol Biederman and bishop’s warden and violinist Mary Grothe played “(How Much Is) That Doggie in the Window?” as owners and pets took turns approaching the front of the room and receiving a blessing from Backlund.
“May God bless you, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. May you and your human companions find joy and love and a long life together,” he said.
While all of the pets present were canines, other animal companions have attended in the past.
Some congregants brought pictures in lieu of their pets, and one woman brought a small stuffed-animal dog. Backlund blessed each in turn.
In place of his own two dogs, Backlund placed their collars on a wooden cutout of a Jack Russell terrier.
“They’re delightful, of course, but they’d be a little too much of a handful, I think, for me today, so they come in proxy,” he said.
Gordan Biederman brought his miniature goldendoodle, Jodi, who had trouble sitting still amid all of the excitement.
“She’s got a mind of her own, but you gotta love her,” he said afterward.
Elaine Neilsen brought pictures of her two dogs, Cleo and Little Cow, and Brenda McHenry brought Boston, her 13-year-old long-haired Dachshund mix.
Having gone blind from glaucoma, Boston had a little trouble navigating the room. Backlund lifted him into his arms and gave him a special blessing.
The ceremony was followed by traditional hymns, prayers and Holy Communion. After the service, St. Francis medals to be displayed on pet collars were handed out, as well as certificates commemorating the ceremony.
While the blessing ceremony only takes place once a year on a Sunday close to St. Francis’ feast day on Oct. 4, dogs regularly attend the Sunday service with their owners, Backlund said.
The back of Sunday’s church bulletin read: “Dogs are allowed at St. Clare’s ... always!”