Celebrating God’s creatures
A year after she arrived at our church, the Rev. Ruth Morrison began one of our most beloved traditions, the Blessing of Animals on or near the Feast of Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and the environment.
The blessing is usually held on the first Sunday of October in the Outdoor Chapel, weather-permitting. It has become one of the church’s most popular events for two- and four-legged participants.
In the first year of the blessing, 30 dogs and their owners attended the special service on a beautiful fall afternoon. The blessing took place not long after Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita and $589 was donated during the service to aid pets in Lousiana, Mississippi and Texas displaced by the two storms.
The 2005 blessing was the first large event held in the Outdoor Chapel after the completion of its refurbishment by church member Matt Braun, a sophomore at Cape Elizabeth High School. It was Matt’s Eagle Scout project.
Both members of the church and non-members attended that first blessing. One non-member, Joanne Nelson of Portland, brought her dog Trinh, who was blind and recently had had detached retina surgery in Toronto. The surgery was an attempt to restore sight in at least one eye. Trinh was still blind at the time of the blessing, but Joanne said she is a believer in the power of prayer and that some day, at least some of Trinh’s sight would be returned.
Rev. Morrison always takes the time to bless each animal individually while talking with its owner to learn more about the dog (or other animal on a few occasions). Following each blessing, the dog would receive a certificate, sometimes a bandana, and always a dog treat.
Each of the blessings also includes hymn singing, scripture reading, and a sharing of stories about how much God’s creatures mean to our lives.
At the 2007 blessing, participants talked about how and why their dogs had been named. Some of the stories:
- Meggie was named by the Rev. Ruth Morrison not just because she is the color of nutmeg but because she resembles (according to Ruth) Meg Ryan. “It is the messy hair-do and the ear-to-ear grin,” Ruth said. “Besides, she has a comedic quality, too!” (See Meggie in the above photo).
- Kathie Hackett’s dog Cricket is so named because her father’s name is Jiminy (as in Jiminy Cricket).
- The Connelly-Young family dog was born on Dec. 24 and is named Sonny Boy (Sonny for short) as in son of God for the reference to Christmas. “I tried to name him Holly,” Laura said, “but Bryan didn’t want a girl name for a boy dog.”
- One of the Chamberlin family dogs is named Poquito, who they brought home from a vacation in Belize. “We found him in a dump with a pack of other dogs and he was sickly,” Jaymie said. “He was covered with sores and bugs and weighed no more than two pounds. He could barely stand and he wasn’t long for this world. We spent the rest of our vacation with him and trying to figure out a way to bring him back. Poquito means a tiny, little bit in Spanish. He now weighs 35 pounds and our dump yard dog is the best ever!”
In 2012, there were more stories about how dogs were named. One of the most interesting came from Shirley Maxwell-Royall and her daughter Cayden, who brought their dog Henry. Henry was named for Cayden’s great-great-great uncle, poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Here is a look back at some of the Cape Elizabeth United Methodist Church’s Animal Blessings since 2005: