Pets and waves, gadgets and resumes: Blessings abound for all of life

October 2, 2011

Pet-lovers, make room for waves.

Over a weekend traditionally known for blessing humans' furry, finned and feathered friends in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals, an ocean-minded interfaith group of more than 1,000 on Oct. 2 blessed waves in Huntington Beach, California.

"Some bring their surfboards, and paddle out to the beyond, where the waves are breaking and together they say prayers for the ocean" during the observance, which included a Tongan choir, a Ukulele troupe and the spiritual band UnderSky. The ceremony includes Christians, Jews and Muslims, and typically calls upon participants to honor the environment and send prayers over the Pacific Ocean to coastal communities globally, according to the Rev. Allison Rainey English, an associate priest at St. Wilfrid of York Episcopal Church in Huntington Beach, who has participated in the yearly event.

And that's just the beginning. Increasingly, clergy of all faiths say they receive requests and offer blessings throughout the year to honor everything from bikes to backpacks, fleets of boats and roads, seeds, baseball mitts and, for the unemployed, even resumes.

"One of the reasons I bless is, we are so blessed in our lives as Christians, and this is an opportunity to give thanks," said Diocese of Los Angeles Bishop Jon Bruno.

St. Francis is remembered for preaching to animals, but on Oct. 1 Bruno skipped a sermon and went straight for holy water. He had his hands full with dozens of pets, mostly dogs, including long-haired Chihuahuas, Labrador retriever-mixes, a Queensland heeler, a bulldog and one lone cat during a Blessing of the Animals service at the St. Francis Episcopal Mission Outreach Center in San Bernardino, California.

An avowed pet lover, Bruno admitted his blessings extend well beyond people's best friends, however. He blessed bicycles during L.A. Bike Week in February of this year and has even extended episcopal prayers to classic cars and motorcycles.

"I bless cars because cars need to be prayed for regularly," he said laughingly on Oct. 1. "It makes it difficult when your car doesn't run as it's supposed to. Why not? If we are able to have God intervene in our lives and strengthen us and even influence the way we think, maybe blessing a car will make me realize how I should care for that car better, that it's set aside and sacred, and to make it last in a different way, to make it last longer."

Similarly, the Rev. Ian Mabey of St. John's Anglican Church in Coffs Harbour, New South Wales, in the Anglican Church of Australia's Diocese of Grafton, said he blesses "animals, fishing fleets, crops and anything else that I am asked to" bless.

That includes roads.

"I've been blessing the roads on Palm Sunday as part of the West Australian road-wise road safety campaign for a number of years," he said in a recent e-mail to the Episcopal News Service.

"Easter is our most holy celebration of the Christian Year," he said. "It is in Australia, also the time when we kill more people on the roads than any other time of the year. For me, the week before Easter is the natural time for us to pray for safety on the roads and for those whose job it is to deal with the road users and the results of road accidents.

"It is an opportunity to be relevant to the wider community and take practical steps in addressing a community tragedy."

Mabey said he continued the practice after moving to Coffs Harbour in New South Wales last year, blessing the Pacific Highway, which runs outside the church "and goes all the way round Australia, so my blessing gets to cover all of Australia.

"There is never a time when it is not right to pray for God's blessing," he added. "It is surprising how many people in the securer world still want to know how to pray for God's blessings on their activities and lives."

The Rev. Nicholas Porter, rector of Trinity Church in Southport, in the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut, an ocean-lover and boat-owner, said the whole village got into the act June 18 – high tide – in a blessing of the fleet.

The ceremony included a parade, a colonial re-enactment complete with fife and drum corps, marching bands, and political speeches, "and we marched down to the water where the harbor meets the Long Island Sound."

Powerboat and sailboat owners lined up in the harbor "and we take turns blessing each boat that goes by.

"We don't bless the boats as much as we bless the captain and crew, so that people know they go out with God, especially when they find themselves out on the sea. We bless to let them know God's there," he said.

Porter, who spends a good deal of time out on the water, said he offers a prayer of protection. "The sea is very big and you are very small," he said. "It's a very powerful metaphor for God and that's not lost on any of us sailors or boaters of any kind.

"It's also a day to be joyful about one's religious convictions," he added. "If you've ever sailed in a storm – which I have many, many times – you're very thankful for those blessings. You do a lot of imploring for God's presence out there. When we bless, we get everyone from the very pious to those who are at the ceremony just for the parade. But they all want a blessing. In fact, some people double back twice."

At the start of the summer church league baseball season, the Very Rev. Brian Baker blessed softball mitts for the Trinity Spirits team of Trinity Cathedral in Sacramento, in the Episcopal Diocese of Northern California, according to the church website.

As team players held their mitts high, Baker offered a prayer written for the occasion by the Rev. Canon Grant Carey, thanking God "for the gift of hands that enable us to reach out and catch the opportunities that come our way."

He asked for a blessing so the mitts "may serve to protect as well as to enable those who wear them to play the game with skill and honor, as you have taught us so to play the Game of Life. Keep our players from harm, and grant us all the skill that enables us to catch the opportunities that come our way. All this we ask in the Name of the Manager of our Team."

Elsewhere, blessings abound:

Congregations like Trinity Episcopal Church in Melrose, in the Diocese of Massachusetts blessed backpacks, students, teachers and the upcoming school year on Aug. 29.

St. Columba's Church in Camarillo, in the Los Angeles diocese, offers a yearly blessing of seeds, crops and plants.

Clergy of all faith traditions also bless quilts, books, travelers, trips and, in some cases, they have been known to bless gadgets, and even resumes for those seeking employment.

Meanwhile, there were way more pets than people and a whole lot of blessings at the Oct. 1 outdoor service at the St. Francis Mission in San Bernardino.

One parishioner, Cheryl Foxford, had so many pets she had to bring them in two shifts. First up was her cat Lilly, and then Cienna, a Labrador retriever-Dalmation-mix. Afterwards, she raced to her nearby Highland home, returning with Pooky, Coco and Sweetie Pie, her three other dogs.

Her daughter-in-law Michelle Foxford was struggling to hold onto the leashes of Kadie, her seven-year-old Queensland heeler; Polly, a black Labrador retriever; and Pippi, a two-year-old Labrador retriever mix and a rescue dog.

"Mom said to come and have them blessed, so I'm here with all my girls," she said.

Bruno said he'd never blessed such a well-behaved group. "You can tell these animals love to be loved," Bruno said. "They were so well-behaved, and peaceful. It's a good example for what the church should be, a place where humanity and pets are in harmony with each other."

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