Dogs and a few cats blessed at the Skyline Community Church in the Oakland Hills
on October 10, 2011
A chorus of barks, yips, and the odd meow served as background music at Skyline Community Church’s 11th annual Blessing of the Animals on Saturday. Churches of denominations around the world—from Catholic to Lutheran to Episcopalian—celebrate the Blessing of the Animals each fall around October 4, the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals.
At Skyline, an affiliate of the United Church of Christ, animals are blessed by the church’s pastor, the Reverend Laurie Manning, along with church member Rhea Babbitt. Babbitt, a longtime congregant and the daughter of a minister, helped start Skyline’s annual Blessing of the Animals. Babbitt said she has been passionate about animals ever since she first took in a stray dog as a child.
The service was held in the church courtyard, overlooking the Oakland Hills, as the sun beat down. Church members wore t-shirts, shorts and sandals. Even Manning dressed casually in a short-sleeved blouse, grey basketball shorts, and red sandals. “Don’t worry, I wore my dog clothes today,” Manning said as she petted a rambunctious Labrador.
Church members registered their animals, then sat down on folding chairs placed far enough apart that their pet could sit beside them. Manning led the congregation through readings about the importance of animals and then through a few songs, including “All God’s Creatures Have a Place in the Choir.” Babbitt read the passage from Genesis about God creating animals, then the whole congregation read aloud a passage titled “Covenant with the Animals,” a contract Babbitt and Manning created by re-interpreting other covenants described in Genesis. “This is an agreement to always take care of your pet,” Manning said, as each person signed his or her copy.
During the final part of the service, each animal received a blessing by either Manning or Babbitt. Babbitt, who was in a wheelchair because of a recent foot surgery, spent several minutes with every dog and cat, whispering into their ears and kissing them on their heads. Both she and Manning wore embroidered stoles that they placed around each pet and owner. The blessings were each unique and did not sound like typical prayers.
In years past, Manning and Babbitt have blessed goats, miniature and regular-sized horses, and a 1,000 pound pot-bellied pig. This year, however, canines were the theme. Every kind of dog—from the tiniest Chihuahua to a grayish-brown creature roughly the size of Sesame Street’s Barkley—dominated the scene.
It turns out that pets, like children, often cannot sit still during church. Boots, a five week-old kitten, black with white paws, meowed in his cage as a medium-sized mixed breed dog tried to stick his nose between the bars. Another cat kept running away from its owners while Manning tried to bless it. “This cat’s like, ‘I need this blessing like I need a hole in my head!’” said Manning.
Michael Lewis and Kai Barlow, owners of Rufus, the giant Sesame Street-esque creature, spoke about how bringing their dog to the ceremony changed their church experience and gave them some insight into the congregation’s other pet owners. “People saw us with our dog and said, ‘Oh, that makes sense,’” Lewis said. “It made sense when we saw people with their pets.”
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