Animals and their owners turn out for blessing

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 10, 2011

By Hugh Fisher CLEVELAND — Beneath the branches of trees in the churchyard of Christ Episcopal, humans raised their voices to sing “All Creatures of Our God and King.”
All around them, all creatures great and small were panting, slithering, flapping and snorting, waiting for a special blessing.
Sunday afternoon’s community Blessing of the Animals service — one of at least two such services held in the county over the weekend — drew not only parishioners but local pet-owners and farmers.
After prayers and scripture readings, the Rev. Sarah Blaies, interim rector at Christ Church, moved around the gathering of about 30, pausing to greet each family and their pets.
Even a snake.
The Rev. Blaies bent down to see the plastic container held by Braydon Haglan.
Inside was a little snake, about as big around as a felt-tip pen.
“What’s his name?” Blaies asked.
“Jaws,” Braydon replied.
“Jaws,” Blaies said, making the sign of the cross, “I bless you in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
No matter what bad press snakes might get, Braydon is a fan of Jaws.
“He’s a corn snake,” Braydon said. “They’re really good. They’re not noisy. They eat mice.”
In addition to Jaws, the Haglans brought the family’s cockatiel, two dogs and two cats to be blessed.
“It’s truly nice to have the community come together and have all the animals blessed,” said Ryan Haglan, standing near wife Leighann and daughter Alexandra, 9.
Leighann said the service was part of the healing process for her daughter.
One of the family’s cats had been killed just the day before, she said, and it had hit them hard.
“She finds a lot of comfort in knowing they are a part of the church family,” Leighann said.
For Blaies, the first animal blessing service she’s done in the country offered some new challenges.
“I’ll tell you, I’ve never blessed a bull, or a horse, or a snake or a bird,” Blaies said.
She blessed all of the above on Sunday — and not just one bull, but two.
The heavy beasts stood inside the trailer of their owner, Gary Blythe.
He’s a Mecklenburg County resident who purchased farmland in Rowan for his cattle.
One has had a career in rodeos as a bucking bull, but is getting up in years.
The other is a young bull, not yet trained, who had a back injury recently.
Blythe said he saw the blessing as a way to give thanks.
“They’re my life, you know,” he said. “The Lord blessed me with as many animals as I have.”
His wife, Carolyn, said the blessing was a part of caring for their bulls.
“It helps you feel like you’ve done all you can do,” she said. “Just glad, just thankful, that he is looking out for the animals.”
Having been a social worker before she went into the ministry, Blaies said she was well aware of the importance pets can play in our lives.
“They are an extended part of our family, and we love our animals,” she said.
“Even though theologically we believe they don’t have a soul, they are a part of our lives, they are a part of what we do.”
The service of hymns and scripture readings took place in the churchyard, beneath the branches of trees in the fresh autumn air.
Not only was it a chance to socialize with other people of faith who are also animal lovers, the service gave an opportunity to do good.
Jane Hartness and Lorie Corriher from the Humane Society of Rowan County brought Daisy, a hound mix in need of adoption, to the service.
They left with a bag of pet food and treats donated by the church.
More often, blessing services for animals are a chance for the community to give back to pets, and owners, in need.
Corriher said that, seeing so much grief in their day-to-day work with mistreated and unwanted animals, it was great to see people with happy, loved animals.
“I really think the love and support of each other, knowing that other people care about animals, is nice,” she said.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.