AUGUSTA — More than 30 bipeds showed up despite cold and rainy conditions to honor the furred, feathered, finned and scaled at the Blessing of the Animals service at Mill Park Sunday morning.

The Unitarian Universalist Community Church service was led by the Rev. Carie Johnsen and music leader Anne Nessen Voorhees. It was the first animal blessing service Johnsen has led, and she was thrilled at the turnout despite the weather.

“It is a fairly traditional practice in Unitarian Universalism,” Johnsen said before the service began. “We have a Seventh Principle, which is the interconnected web of all existence, and it is from that principle that we practice our animal blessing.”

Johnsen said people are always happy to have blessings bestowed upon their animals because they are a part of their families.

“People’s animals are a part of their being, a part of their home and family,” Johnsen said. “We take the time to recognize the value of the animals and take the time to bless them and recognize that they bring joy and comfort.”

Martha and Don Naber came to the service from Waterville with their 12-year-old greyhound Mattie, a retired racing dog. Martha Naber said the sleek, light brown canine had never received a religious blessing before.

“This was a first-time experience for us, and we were really interested in coming down (from Waterville),” Martha Naber said. “(Mattie) is a sweet girl and was trained not to be loud or aggressive in any way. She’s just a wonderful girl.”

The 45-minute service included a story by religious exploration coordinator Brigid Chapin about St Francis of Assisi, the Catholic Church’s patron saint of animals. Chapin said the blessing of animals dates back to when Francis was a preacher during the 13th century.

“We do it as a celebration of our connection (to all things),” Chapin said. “In the spirit of acknowledging our part in this world, we bless and thank our animal friends and companions, who often give us much strength.”

Under the covered shelter at the park along the Kennebec River, more than 15 dogs of every size, shape and color, big and small, short and tall, received individual blessings at the conclusion of the service. In addition to the dogs, blessings were given to Chapin’s twin sister Emma’s Russian tortoise Gigi and several stuffed animals including a Winnie the Pooh.

The focus of the service was to honor and bless the creatures, alive or stuffed, in attendance, but Johnsen took time to “remember all of our beloved pets who have passed.” As she introduced a prayer of remembrance, the heavens opened up and a torrential rain fell for several minutes.

In lieu of candles because of the wind, more than 10 people wrote the name of a deceased pet on a card that Johnsen said would be displayed on a bulletin board at the church on Winthrop Street. Christine Little, of South China, brought her daughter Sedona and their two Brussels griffons, Jack and Button, to the service, and Little had two mason jars with ashes of deceased pets. Seven-year-old Jack was especially vocal throughout the service, sometimes causing Johnsen to “pause for barks.”

The service, which featured a group performance of “All God’s Critters Got a Place in the Choir” led by Voorhees, ended with a sing-a-long of Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend” before the customary benediction.

“We bless all of the animal beings from the ones in the earth to the creatures of the sky,” Johnsen said as an eagle circled above.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ

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