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Bless this pet

Church leaders bestow blessings on the four-legged

PHOTO COURTESY NANCY CONNER - Barbara Topham shields Jessica Coughlin and her rabbit, Cali, as Pastor Rory T. Scott bestows blessings on the animal at Bethany Lutheran Church March 15. The pet blessing service was the first, but not the last for the church.

Animals have held a place in religious history for centuries, but a less-practiced tradition has four-legged creatures at the forefront of some ceremonies.

Bethany Lutheran Church recently held its first pet blessing ceremony last month. The ceremony was planned for the summer, but Pastor Rory T. Scott said congregation members pressed to have one sooner, and he obliged.

On Sunday, March 15, he found himself offering blessings to dogs, a rabbit and a turtle. The ceremony was also a time for pet owners to remember the animals they cherished that died.

“Most of the message had to do with pets and their relationship, or being a gift of God to us and deserving to be treated just as well as family members,” Scott said. His congregation is planning another animal blessing service this summer.

Bethany Lutheran isn’t the only church to embrace the idea.

Father Shayo Antipas of St. Wenceslaus Catholic Church in Scappoose said that while his church hasn’t done a pet blessing service yet, he’s seen it at member churches and is considering the idea for St. Wenceslaus, in response to requests from congregation members.

Antipas said the practice has roots in the Catholic church.

“For us, we don’t do it, but there is a tradition,” he said. Antipas, a native of Tanzania, said it’s not uncommon to bless cows, goats, sheep, and other hoofed animals in his east African country. St. Wenceslaus members may consider offering pet blessings in the near future.

The process involves sprinkling holy water on the animals in a ceremony, to acknowledge their place in God’s kingdom and ask for their well-being and multiplication.

“We are superior to all animals,” Antipas said. “When God created the world and all the animals, we were [supposed to] look after them.”

COURTNEY VAUGHN - A statue of St. Francis of Assisi sits in the grass courtyard outside St. Wenceslaus Catholic Church in Scappoose. St. Francis is considered the patron saint of animals and the environment.

The Catholic church on Old Portland Road may be named after a Bohemian duke remembered for maintaining his faith despite political unrest and familial rifts, but one of the property’s most notable features is a statue of St. Francis of Assisi.

St. Francis of Assisi is considered the patron saint of animals. His likeness is featured in the courtyard outside the church, with a bird perched in his hands.

The saint’s affinity for animals struck a chord with Lise Wenker, the church’s office manager, at a young age.

“When our children get confirmed, they pick a patron saint,” she explained. “I picked St. Francis of Assisi. He’s the patron saint of pets and the environment.”

She said each year for Lent, she was encouraged to refrain from an activity or take part in something to honor her patron saint. The tradition has stuck with her 43 years later.

This year for Lent, Wenker said she’s helping foster an 8-year-old mustang horse and assist its owner in training and caring for it.

Wenker said it’s no surprise that people of faith are requesting pet blessings. She’s an advocate for it herself.

“People in Columbia County love animals,” she said.