Monday, October 5, 2009

In the name of the father, the son, and the holy goat

Animal House of God: Lynda Koenders brought Rusty, a Chinese silky hen, to the Blessings of the Animals ceremony on the Feast of St. Francis. Photograph by Deddeda Stemler.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
October 5, 2009


They came on two legs and on four, on leashes and in crates, a menagerie seeking a blessing on their saint’s day.

Parishioners at St. John the Divine were joined in their Anglican service yesterday morning by a handful of household and barnyard pets.

The skies were sunny as the animals arrived in unmatched singles, not pairs, so one assumes the approaching fall rains will not be of Biblical proportions.

A shitzu, a dachshund, a couple of labrador crosses, and a hen and a rooster were among the critters assembled for the annual Blessing of the Animals.

Lo, we gazed upon them and they were good. For the most part.

The rooster squawked when removed from his crate and so was quickly returned to his roost.

The unfortunate Feasgar, a handsome black Labrador-German shepherd cross whose name is Scottish Gaelic for “evening,” yelped when his tail was stepped on accidentally as a worshipper tried to slip past in the pew.

The animals and their human handlers sat on the pulpit side of the church, while those with allergies found sanctuary on the lectern side.

The animals got along fine at St. John, while, on television, Bears and Rams and Colts and Jaguars and Panthers and Dolphins and Broncos and, yes, even Saints did unholy battle on the football gridiron.

The annual rite is eagerly anticipated by some.

Gretchen Brewin returned with Lucy, her eight-year-old female lab cross.

“Lucy has been here before and I’m sure the blessings have helped,” she said.

Ms. Brewin, a former Victoria mayor, is joined by her canine on jaunts.

“She rides shotgun when I travel the country. She’s not so good at reading maps, but she’s a terrific companion.”

Su McLeod, the family ministry coordinator, brought Feasgar, while Bernie Pauly and her son, Ethan, aged 8, came to church with Jacques, a two-year-old male shitzu, whose muzzle was petted by the smiling rector as he passed in procession.

The choir sang “All Things Bright and Beautiful” and the first reading came from Genesis: “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures.”

The Rev. Harold Munn delivered in spirited fashion a sermon about St. Francis of Assisi, whose feast day was being celebrated.

He addressed the presence of animals in our midst.

“At one level, it’s cute,” he said. “Really, it’s not about being cute and fun.”

He told a story about being a boy alone with his terrier, conducting a theological inquiry into the existence of God by asking the dog. Of course, he could not answer.

“When we bring the dogs, cats and chickens into the church, we’re saying God loves those creatures for exactly what they are.

“It reminds us of our small place in creation.

“We have a special place, but it is a small place.”

He noted the Bug Zoo had brought exotic insects to the blessing in years past.

“God has enough love for every single whale, for every single ant, for every single cougar, for every single insect.”

The hen clucked approvingly throughout the sermon.

The Chinese silky had been brought by Lynda Koenders, the general manager at her family’s Beacon Hill Children’s Farm, a petting zoo.

Throughout the singing of hymns, Ms. Koenders clutched Rusty to her bosom

“Usually I bring a goat,” she said in a whisper, “but they were too heavy this year. I’ve got a bad back. A chicken I can carry.”

The misbehaving rooster, a Polish, was named Gene Simmons after a rock star known for his pursuit of ecstasies not likely to be found in a house of worship. It turns out he was a last-minute replacement.

“I had to leave Jimi Hendrix back at the farm. He’s too fast and I couldn’t catch him.”

Which may have a blessing in disguise for those who wished to hear the sermon.

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