Members of the congregation usually don’t have to be restrained from jumping on the priest and sticking their tongues in his face, but this time of year at St. Barnabas Anglican Church is an exception.
Father Harold Vandeveer moved Sunday service outside this week to accommodate the church’s four-legged members during the first Blessing of the Animals at St. Barnabas. Several parishioners brought their dogs to the afternoon service in Tega Cay, where many spent the service playing with each other, the two-legged worshippers and the priest himself.
Even though this was the first time the ceremony has been performed at St. Barnabas, the blessing is commonly performed at Anglican and other churches around Oct. 4, the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi. The medieval Italian monk is considered the patron saint of animals and the environment because of his connection to the natural world.
“He loved animals,” Vandeveer said. “When he went outside to preach, he found even the birds and the animals would come to sit and listen. At that point, he realized all of God’s creation wanted to be involved with the Lord.”
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The event was intended not only to extend a blessing to the pets but also to attract more attention to the small church, planted by the Anglican Church of North America. St. Barnabas got started only last year, and its 20 to 30 regular members meet inside a conference room at Tega Cay Golf Club.
“This is a chance to meet people in a more non-threatening environment,” Vandeveer said. Especially for such a young congregation, “they need to be able to stick around for a while and find out what we’re all about.”
The only dog-owners at the event Sunday were already active members of St. Barnabas, but it still served as a bonding experience. Craig and Caroline Reeder didn’t bring a pet to the blessing, but their 6-year-old son, Zane, and 3-year-old daughter, Ann, enjoyed playing with the animals.
June Hough, with her husband, Gil, brought two Brittany spaniels, Bear and Blue, to receive Father Harold’s blessing.
“It’s traditional. We do this every year at the Epsicopal church in Fort Mill,” Hough said. “It’s good because everybody brings their pets and their families to be blessed.”
Do the dogs enjoy the ceremony as much as the people? Hough said, “I’m sure they do. They get treats.”
Vandeveer hopes the congregation will grow over time as St. Barnabas does more to introduce itself to the community and the region’s growing population spills out of established churches. Caroline Reeder thinks public events like the Blessing of the Animals will play an important role in that outreach.
“This is what makes it a family,” she said.