An older woman brought her dog Charlie to Grace Episcopal Church in Martinez Sunday morning, looking for some divine help for her ailing pooch.
And the Rev. Dr. Deborah White was happy to offer a blessing.
The woman, who didn’t reveal her name, is not a parishioner at Grace Episcopal, but responded to an online posting for the church’s Blessing of the Animals event. In front of a table in the church’s courtyard and the various COVID-19 safety-related warnings, sanitizers and towels on it, White hugged Charlie and spoke a blessing for him. White also comforted the woman and invited her back.
Blessing events such as these are in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, a 12th century Italian friar and the Catholic Church’s patron saint of animals and the environment. Oct. 4 is the day of the Feast of St. Francis, and the blessing of pets is typically done on this day or close to it not only at Catholic and Episcopal churches, but at houses of worship of many faiths worldwide.
Grace Episcopal Church in Martinez has done such Blessings of the Animals in past years; last year, one of God’s creatures blessed was a horse, belonging to one of the church’s families, invited into the sanctuary.
“He behaved, and he left no evidence of his presence inside,” White said, smiling. Beside the usual dogs and cats, she has blessed snakes, an iguana, a tarantula and a large tortoise rolled up in a wheelbarrow. “It would have taken him too long to walk up there,” White said.
Perhaps because of the COVID-19 pandemic, perhaps because of the timing before regular church services, only a handful of folks brought animals to Grace Episcopal on Sunday. White brought her own border collie mix Riptide to publicly bless, and Marj Leeds of Martinez had her golden lab Gary on hand for a blessing.
Leeds, who is a Grace Episcopal parishioner, said she didn’t think Gary was really cognizant of the significance of Sunday’s happening. “He knows he’s out on a bright Sunday morning, and he’s happy,” Leeds said.
But it isn’t only the animals, she said, that are blessed by these short rituals. That message, she said, became clear years ago when she brought another dog, suffering from bone cancer, to be prayed over.
“I was hoping the blessing would change him, but it changed me instead,” Leeds said.