Blessing of the Animals
By By JAN GRIFFEY / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- There's nothing out of the ordinary about Niles residents accompanying loved ones to church.
At Trinity Episcopal here Sunday, however, those loved ones were mostly of the furry, four-legged variety -- though there was a black, speckled chicken named Melody, as well as two goats, a rabbit and Paige Lamb's hamster, Fluffy.
The unusual congregation was very well behaved at the Blessing of the Animals, a tradition at Trinity Episcopal continued by Father Frank "Rocky" Schuster, rector.
Although Trinity member Rony Gentry's golden retriever, Bear, did express his impatience during the service with a loud, deep howl that would make any self-respecting hound dog proud, the service was mostly without incident.
The Blessing of the Animals followed the example of the life and work of St. Frances of Assisi, protector of all of God's creation.
Schuster's sermon was a brief one, in which he noted the great joy, abundant love and many blessings animals provide to mankind.
Schuster sprinkled holy water on each animal at the service and offered a blessing to each. Paige Lamb assisted Schuster by serving much-anticipated liver treats to the animals following their blessings.
That blessing was why John and Stacy Poorman brought their beagle, Charlie, five months old, to Sunday's special service at Trinity.
Stella Trench of South Bend, Ind., who is a member of Trinity Episcopal Church in Niles, brought her two pets -- a large, white, furry dog named Sam, who only has three legs, and a greyhound named Marco -- to receive blessings Sunday.
Lynn Rampart of Niles is not a Trinity member, but learned about Sunday's Blessing of the Animals by a neighbor who read about it in the newspaper.
She brought her two Jack Russell Terriers, Shawnee and Zuni, to receive blessings.
Shawnee and Zuni were rescued from a shelter about a year, she said, "So, I think they may need a little extra blessing."
Trinity member Jayne Lamb held her family's cocker spaniel, Gretchen, close to her during the service, trying to soothe Gretchen's obviously frayed nerves.
Lamb quickly whisked Gretchen away to friendlier confines when the service was over.
John and Rita Gustafson brought their three-and-a-half-year-old black lab mix Zuni (no relation to Rampart's Zuni, above) to Sunday's service.
The Gustafsons, who moved recently to Niles Township near Buchanan, said Zuni helps provide animal-assisted therapy to patients at Madison Center and to recovering alcoholics at the Center for the Homeless in South Bend.