The congregation at the Sunday afternoon service at Emmanuel Friedens Church was as enthusiastic as they come.
Some of the parishioners were so excited, in fact, that they couldn’t sit still.
The service was inspiring, but the exuberant response also could have had something to do with the fact that about half of the attendees were canines.
Seven dogs and their owners gathered on the church’s lawn for a Blessing of the Animals service.
The ritual is associated with Saint Francis, but actually started as a way to bless people’s livelihoods, said interim Associate Pastor Jo Page, who led the service along with interim Pastor David Gregory.
“Animals were essential to people’s livelihoods, so in blessing the animals, you were also blessing the labor,” Page explained. “Now, of course, we don’t depend on animals for our livelihoods unless we’re dog trainers, so now it’s just to bless them as companions.”
Ken George and Lillian Johnson of Scotia brought their faithful companion, Ridley, a lively young golden retriever, to the event.
“Ridley’s a Unitarian, but we thought it would be fine if she came,” George joked. “She’s a very non-denominational dog. She loves everybody.”
The couple decided to let their Maine coon cat, Joe Peeps, skip the service.
“We were thinking of bringing the cat but then we decided his blessing would be to stay at home,” Johnson said with a chuckle.
Three-year-old Maggie, a Great Pyrenees, offered a massive paw to anyone who came by, while Tim Williams of Scotia kept a firm hold on her leash.
Next to him, Arlene Stankavich held the leash of the couple’s 14-year-old border collie mix, Haley.
“In dog years, that’s 14-times-seven,” Stankavich mused. “I’ve had a good, long life with her.”
Larry Phillips of Glenville, who was pastor at the church for 29 years, brought his 10-year-old Hungarian pointer, Sadie, to the service.
The copper-colored “41-pound lap dog” seemed delighted to be among so many dog-lovers and fellow canines.
Phillips said he brought her because he feels that owning a dog is both a personal and a spiritual experience.
“It’s just an acknowledgement that all of creation, animals included, has a special place in God’s world,” he explained.
Gathered in a half-circle on the lawn, the humans stood, but tried to convince their dogs to sit, as the pastors thanked God for the animals and called on their masters to remember how interconnected we are with all animals.
Quiet moments were punctuated with whispered commands of, “Sit!” and the occasional bark.
After a series of prayers and readings, the pastors laid a hand on each dog for a blessing and asked God to fill the heart of each human companion with thanksgiving and devotion.