On this dog day of summer, the triple digit temperatures took a break this past Sunday, just in time for the Blessing of the Animals Service at the First Presbyterian Church of Verona on Fairview Avenue.
Pastor Erik Spencer, dressed in his short sleeved clerical shirt and collar, khaki shorts and running shoes, welcomed the twenty or so pets and their owners to the service being held in the shade of the church on the front lawn.
It seemed only dogs brought their owners, as cats are usually leery of crowds they can’t control. Young and old, big and small, the dogs were very well behaved and usually stayed near their owners seated on the folding chairs.
For the Scripture reading, Pastor Spencer read from Genesis, Chapter 1, Verses 20-31, regarding God’s creation of Earth and the description of the relationship between the human community and the animal world. In the passage, it is stated, “Let the Earth bring forth living creatures of every kind.” During the Pastor’s sermon, he emphasized, “God placed us on Earth to enjoy what God has created. God invites us to live in harmony with the animal world.”
During the prayers, Pastor Spencer reserved time for the worshippers to remember their pets of the past. He encouraged all to call out the names of their beloved pets that are no longer with us. In addition to the many names called out, the audience laughed when an attendee mentioned the name of her deceased dachshund, Oscar Mayer.
After the service, Pastor Spencer went to each owner and their dog and offered an individual blessing on the pet and its family. By the look on the faces of the family during the blessing, it was easy to tell how much this meant. Some dogs survived near fatal diseases only to bounce back and remain a vital companion to the owner. One black lab named Byrne recently completed training to be a certified therapy dog, ready to visit hospitals and senior living facilities.
“Churches all over are struggling and it’s important that we do things that involve the community,” the Pastor commented. “Pets are very important to the community and not just to kids growing up but also to the elderly, singles and families with special needs. It’s important we reach out to show we care about all of their family.”
The owners, some parishioners, some friends, family and neighbors from Verona and Cedar Grove, all felt strongly about their dogs, using terms like “soul mate,” “unconditional love,” “sweet and sensitive” and in one case, "Bonnie, the cancer survivor of four years who deserves to be blessed.” When I asked a couple who owned “Bazi,” what kind of a dog he was, they simply answered, “He’s our kind of a dog.”
The First Presbyterian Church of Verona is very active with many other support groups for both children and adults. Their website, www.veronaonline.com/fpc has information for those who want to learn more.