Furry friends get blessed at annual event

Published 12:10 am Sunday, October 5, 2014

Grace United Methodist Church the Rev. Nance Hixon blesses Judy Strickland’s dog Honey during the annual blessing of the animals Saturday. Hixon along with local pet owner prayed for the well-being and gift of their pets.  (Sam Gause / The Natchez Democrat)

Grace United Methodist Church the Rev. Nance Hixon blesses Judy Strickland’s dog Honey during the annual blessing of the animals Saturday. Hixon along with local pet owner prayed for the well-being and gift of their pets. (Sam Gause / The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — When the assembled congregation at Grace United Methodist Church raised its collective voice in singing the hymn “All Creatures of Our God and King,” everyone joined in — including some non-human creatures.

The group in question was gathered for Grace UMC’s annual blessing of the animals, which coincides with the feast day of the 11th century Catholic saint, Francis of Assisi, who is considered the patron saint of animals.

“We are here because animals matter to us and because animals matter to the Lord,” said Grace UMC’s pastor, the Rev. Nance Hixon.

Grace United Methodist Church’s the Rev. Nance Hixon blesses Michael and Patricia Murphy’s dogs Levi and Louie during the annual blessing of the animals Saturday. Hixon along with local pet owner prayed for the well-being and gift of their pets. (Sam Gause / The Natchez Democrat)

Grace United Methodist Church’s the Rev. Nance Hixon blesses Michael and Patricia Murphy’s dogs Levi and Louie during the annual blessing of the animals Saturday. Hixon along with local pet owner prayed for the well-being and gift of their pets. (Sam Gause / The Natchez Democrat)

“You see this play out many times through the scriptures, with the ravens that fed Elijah, the fish that saved Jonah, and when God expresses concern for the City of Nineveh because it contained many people and many animals.”

Some stories tell of St. Francis of Assisi taking time to preach to animals, and while Hixon didn’t deliver a sermon to the collective canine contingent, he did lead a brief liturgy before praying an individual blessing over each animal. Patricia Hercules brought her two dogs, Goose and Midnight, to the blessing.

Goose has diabetes and is sometimes difficult to manage, while Midnight is aging, she said.

“Midnight is 19 and just needs our love and support and care, and we want to ask a blessing and comfort here in her last days,” Hercules said.

Angela Walker attended the blessing with one of her dogs — a Pug named Puggie — and brought a list containing four other canine names and those of six cats.

The choice was more pragmatic than a declaration of Puggie’s religious devotion as compared to the rest of her animals.

“Puggie is the only one who will do with a leash and collar,” she said.

The service ended with a prayer thanking God for not only the animals present but those that had been cherished by the humans there in the past.

Hixon said the Bible has passages that indicate animals, too, praise God, and Saturday was about acknowledging their participation in creation.

“We want to celebrate the place these animals have in our lives and ask God’s blessing on them,” Hixon said.