Animals Blessed on St. Francis of Assisi day

Pastors Mary Piper and Harvey Ray with Ray?s greyhound, Autumn.
Pastors Mary Piper and Harvey Ray with Ray?s greyhound, Autumn.

On October 28, a sculpture of the 12th century monk decorated the entrance to St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Shady Cove. It depicted the friar harboring a dove in his right palm, and another atop his left shoulder. A closer glance confirmed that someone with a sense of humor had placed a bone-shaped dog biscuit in the statue’s left hand. "My fourteen-year-old son," admitted Pastor Mary Piper with a grin.

Approximately sixty parishioners and  guests gathered to celebrate the annual blessing of the animals, for which the image had been set out. Banners on the wall proclaimed this as the parish’s 50th year. The animal blessing tradition now takes place world-wide, Piper said. It dates back to the ancient Celts from which (Episcopalians) derive their roots.

One family arriving a tad late tried to tip-toe in unnoticed. The
pooches  they’d brought betrayed their secret by bursting into barks at
decibel levels possibly audible in Idaho.  

 "Let the dogs bark,
and the cats meow," Piper announced. "Welcome to our two-legged and
four-legged creatures." As if on cue, a chorus of barks followed like
spontaneous applause from the appreciative audience of canines present.
A Himalayan cat  voiced his "amen."

Piper then explained that
she’d been away for a surgical procedure. Her absence  delayed the
animal blessings beyond the actual day of St. Francis earlier this
month. Her Gospel reading from the book of Matthew cited divine
awareness of and provision for humankind’s daily needs. Now living in
each moment, she rests her health concerns in God’s hands. While she
was out of town, Piper said, she missed her six dogs, five horses, and
four cats.

The pastor described St. Francis as "more than a bit
odd." Regarding all animals as his brothers and sisters, he raised
rabbits, tamed wolves, and danced by moonlight.            

clarified that neither the Celts nor her church members worshipped
animals  or nature. "We do not need to bless the creatures. God already
did that in the book of Genesis. We’re just returning thanks to our
creator for all of his creation."

Father Harvey Ray joined
Piper to invite three honored guests to bring their pets forward first
for the blessings. Police Chief Rick Mendenhall, Shady Cove Mayor Ruth 
Keith, and  Fire Chief Bob Miller stepped into the aisle. "But before
we begin," Piper said, we have to ask if your dog bites." "And does
your cat scratch?" added Ray. These drew laughter from the
congregation, as some two dozen others then led or carried dogs, cats,
and a rabbit forward.

The priests asked each animal’s name.
"Bailey," said Chief Miller of his St. Bernard. "We give blessings to
you, Bailey, for the joy, the love, the companionship you give," the
Reverend said, "in the name of the Father…Son, and Holy Spirit."

all the quadrupeds had received similar blessings, and the humans had
sung, prayed, and taken communion, the services concluded. Piper
thanked everyone in attendance, adding, "You’ll find coffee and dog
treats on the way out. Peace be with you."      

by F. C. Blake
Of the Independent.

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