By Jan Worth-Nelson
Today’s annual Blessing of the Animals at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, affected and re-arranged by the coronavirus, was something special–even though it went to the dogs.
Thirteen of them, to be exact, in noisy canine COVID-compliance on the front lawn of the church, accepting in most cases calmly the blessing from St. Paul’s rector Dan Scheid — a gesture he delivered expertly with a scratch behind the ears and a pet on the head.
(Except for Bubbles, who her owner warned is “a little skitzy” and shrank back from Scheid’s gentle offer of a touch).
Before COVID, the yearly blessing took place in the sanctuary. But today’s ritual, like so many others, was influenced by the pandemic. All the humans, including Scheid, wore masks, and the dog owners tried to keep at least a six-foot distance — not always easy with the dogs’ exuberant attempts to meet and greet.
“This has been a year full of our own self-needs,” Scheid reflected in his brief homily.
“What a blessing it is that these pets take your mind off of whatever is on the television or social media, to know that there is a creature in your household that knows nothing of the madness in the world and only wants nothing more than for you to give them a scratch behind the ears and a bowl of food and water every day,” he said. “May we be so blessed as our pets are to be this innocent and carefree.”
Then, punctuated by much barking — especially from his own dog Maggie, whom he described as a “marvelously mutty mix of terrier, lab and malamute,” — Scheid moved one by one to the pooches, saying, ” May you bring joy and happiness to your family today and always…God bless you and love you.”
The Blessing of the Animals correlates to Oct. 4, the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi, who’s known for many things, Scheid explained, including a love of creation and animals.
The turnout was slightly lower than in recent years, Scheid said — and the first to attract only dogs. There have been cats and birds and even a python one year.
He’s only been bitten once — by a nervous parakeet, he said.
In the Bible creation story, animals appeared on the sixth day–even before humans. And according to the creation account interpreted by Archbishop Desmond Tutu that Scheid recited, it went like this: “On the sixth day, let there be animals– elephants and giraffes, cats and mice, dogs and bugs.”
And suddenly the world was a very noisy place, Scheid added in as the dogs yelped.
When the animals appeared, Tutu wrote, God said, “It’s all so very very good.”
And on the seventh day, God laughed and clapped his hands in delight and rested and enjoyed his “glorious creation.”
At that, Scheid’s dog Maggie barked lustily from her perch chained to a sign touting some of the church’s values. Let’s say it was Maggie’s “amen.”
Tamara and Genna Oertel, members of St. Paul’s, came from Ortonville with their well-behavied trio of Roscoe, Dylan and Norman,
“They are a blessing to us, so we brought them in to be blessed,” Tamara Oertel said.
David Powell, of Tucson, AZ and most recently from Davison, brought his three-legged dog Athena. Powell and his wife Margaret are “climate emigres,” having recently bought a property in Davison to avoid the long hot summers in the desert.
Athena was a rescue dog who lost her leg in a bear trap on a ranch in the desert, he said.
“She loves it here–it’s much better for her in the summer.”
Most of the pooches soon strained at their leashes and barked at the other doggie parishioners–seemingly losing patience with the theology of the moment. The humans pulled out little bags of treats to keep things calm until a final benediction.
“This was great,” Scheid said as the dogs noisily departed, issuing one last raggedy volley of barks toward each other.
The event did double duty this year, allowing for some human members of his congregation who have been kept apart by COVID restrictions, to be able to chat with each other in person — it’s been a hard on the congregation, he said, with worship limitations declared by the bishop of the diocese.
All things considered, today was especially sweet, Scheid said.
“How much I envy that one,” he said, looking at his own happily hyper Maggie. “Wouldn’t it be nice just to live a dog’s life today?”
Former EVM editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.