Pet blessings continue despite COVID-19 restrictions

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Nicholas Simon

Blues the Golden Retriever receives his first-ever blessing from the Rev. Gail Schafer at Trinity Episcopal Church in Grand Ledge Michigan. The Blessing of the Animals is traditionally held on the feast day of St. Francis at Episcopal churches around the country.

Members of Trinity Episcopal Church gathered in a socially distanced parking lot to continue a more than 60-year tradition. Despite the fears of COVID-19, longtime churchgoers weren’t going to let a pandemic get in the way of the celebration. 

The event, which was held outside in front of the congregation, songbirds and a few particularly chatty squirrels, was the annual Blessing of the Animals

The service began when the attendees, who were spread out in groups 6 feet apart, were instructed to “sing as loud as you would talk” and then led through a rendition of the hymn “All Things Bright and Beautiful.”

The congregation sang, “All things bright and beautiful, creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful, God made them all.”

During the sermon, the Rev. Gail Shafer addressed the crowd gathered on lawn chairs from behind an alter set atop a folding table.

“Our pets bring us joy, remind us of our responsibilities to all god’s creation and let us share our lives with those who love us unconditionally,” Shafer said. 

Shafer approached the animals gathered in the audience, and one by one sprinkled them with water.

“Fellow Creature, friend and companion, may God our creator and preserver bless, defend, heal and keep you, this day and always,” she said.  

The event is a tradition, said church Senior Warden Cliff Knaggs, who came to the event with his dogs, Hunter and Scout. 

“Normally it’s in the church,” Knaggs said. “But it’s a tradition.  

“I’ve got a picture of that English pointer being blessed when he was just a puppy.”

The Episcopal Church has been holding pet blessing ceremonies on or near the feast day of St. Francis since the 1950s, said Shafer, who was appointed to the Grand Ledge church by the bishop just under two years ago. 

The feast day is traditionally celebrated on Oct. 4, but the ceremony was conducted on Oct. 11 to coincide with the local Fall Festival. Bringing in members of the community has always been a goal of the event, Shafer said.   

“The thing that’s really nice about it is the whole town is invited, and sometimes we get new members of the community that attend,” Shafer said. 

Socially distant events like this are the only ones that some members of the congregation feel comfortable attending. Congregants with family members that have compromised immune systems, like church member Cheryl Mulder, have been especially worried. 

“We came because it was outside,” Mulder said. “Because of our daughter we haven’t been bringing her in the building, but because it was an outside activity we felt comfortable to come.” 

For church members who still wanted to maintain social distancing, the blessing was also conducted over Zoom for about half a dozen families during the event. Blessings were also offered for pictures of pets for families in which transporting their animals to the event presented problems.  

The Mulder family has five cats, but chose to bring one, an older tabby cat, as a representative for the rest of the pride.  

“He was really well behaved,” Mulder said. “Even with the water splashing on him.”

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