A casual onlooker might view the annual processional of owners and animals on Trinity Episcopal Church in Mount Airy ‘s hillside as people personifying pets. It is a tradition that looks forward and backward.
The annual practice is a longstanding ceremony among liturgical churches held to honor St. Francis of Assisi’s love of all creation. According to Trinity Episcopal Rector Ray Hanna the event has been held in Mount Airy for 12 years and is a joint effort with Holy Angels Catholic Church.
This year, the blessing has been set for Oct. 7 at 2 p.m. at Trinity Church. Hanna, who has been at Trinity for nine years, remembers when the priests were once contacted by a carnival in the area during the ceremony.
“We went over to the carnival and blessed an elephant and a python,” said Hanna. “Mostly we get a variety of pets including rabbits, dogs, cats, llamas and parrots. It’s just a lot of fun.” He said the ceremony of blessing the animals has been carried on for centuries. He noted that interest in the practice had wained but has become more popular over the past 25 years.
Hanna said blessings are usually sought not only for the animals’ health but to honor parishioners’ appreciation for all of God’s creation. The event location is alternated between two churches annually. This year Father Lawrence Heiney of Holy Angels Church will also participate in the blessing.
“We have a brief service with a hymn and each priest goes to the animals,” said Hanna. “It’s a lot of fun for us to do. Everyone is invited to come whether they have an animal or not.”
The event is free and the public is invited. Donations are encouraged and proceeds traditionally go towards a group that benefits animals. One such group, The Sergei Foundation, has been chosen to receive the proceeds from the blessing again this year.
Sergei Foundation Founder Karen Fullerton explained the group is named in honor of a family Siberian Husky, Sergei, who died from health complications. After 12 and a half years with the family, Sergei was unable to recover from the effects of anesthetic. Seizures racked the dog, who would not eat. The family made the decision to put him down.
“I felt guilty doing this even though we had the means to pay for further treatment,” commented Fullerton. “Afterwards I thought of how terrible it would be on people who couldn’t afford treatment for their pets.”
This was the beginning of the non-profit foundation that is supported totally by donations and proceeds from a benefit golf tournament. Criteria to qualify for aid by the foundation include the animal’s treatment with emergency level criteria or facing permanent loss of quality of life. The foundation does not fund treatments for on-going chronic issues. It also does not fund treatment of the parvo virus without proof of proper vaccination from a licensed veterinarian.
Participants must have a history of veterinarian care for the animal and the foundation must be able to contact the veterinarian to verify good pet care. Participants must also be willing to apply for Care Credit in person at the veterinarian’s office.
Fullerton said that the all-volunteer group is dependent on donations and fundraisers so proceeds from the blessing from the animals are greatly appreciated. She pointed out that she and her husband, Phillip, had ties to Trinity Episcopal where her husband sings in the church choir.
She said that the foundation has helped 45 animals so far this year with $1,600 being contributed directly to veterinarian care. People may get more information on the foundation at www.sergeifoundation.org.
“We don’t have a rescue location, ” said Fullerton. “We are a local, non-profit group. You can see where your donation goes. We are transparent. We routinely cover six counties in the area if we have the funding. We also post pictures of the animals on our website. Most of the time we have happy endings.”
Reach David Broyles at email@example.com or 719-1952.