By Melina List
Framingham Source Intern
“No matter whether you sing or speak or bark or meow, you are welcome here,” said Reverend Debbie Clark as she began yesterday’s worship service.
Held outside and in front of the edible forest garden, the September 9 service focused on the idea of the web of creation and culminated in a “Blessing of the Animals”ceremony.
About 70 people, many with pets in tow, attended the service and ceremony, which has been a tradition at Edwards Church, United Church of Christ, in Framingham, for several years.
The event draws a mix of regular church members, plus attendees specifically for the Blessing. Rev. Clark estimated about two-thirds of the participants annually are from Edwards.
Three attendees from the church were a family from Lincoln: Kim, Chris, and their daughter Ellie. Ellie is a self-proclaimed animal lover, so the event was a “no-brainer” for them.
Joining the family were the two smallest members of the congregation: their two pet gerbils Marvin and Bubbles, who they’ve had since June. The adoration that they had for their pets was clear; the family described the gerbils as
“Everything you need for that cuddle factor.”
Ellie was later one of the children who helped lead the service; she led a prayer honoring different species of animals that required audience participation.
Each time a species was honored, the congregation was asked to join in by making the sound of that animal.
Jan Adams of Southborough is also a longtime attendee of Edwards Church. Joining her was her 1.5-year-old Cairn terrier named Skye. She described Skye as a “Jekyll and Hyde” type. He tends to be quiet at home but easily excited elsewhere. This description proved to be true, as he was socializing with anyone and everyone and proved to be a big hit, especially with the kids.
Others, like Carol and Greg Paquette, were first-time visitors of the church.
The couple, who live in Watertown but have roots in Framingham, found the event online and decided to bring their 6-year-old dog Roxie to get blessed.
According to them, Roxie was a bit tamer than usual at the event because she stayed awake through her normal nap time, but is typically a “diva dog.” The two, having been completely unfamiliar with Edwards Church, said that they had a wonderful time and were glad they attended.
Rev. Clark said Edwards Church has been hosting an annual outdoor service for 21 years.
But, it wasn’t until seven years ago, however, that they started their Blessing of the Animals tradition.
The credit for this goes to Jeannie, the church’s Ministry Dog who belongs to Rev. Clark, and who inspired the reverend to have a service “acknowledging relationships with animal companions.”
Jeannie was trained by NEADS, a non-profit organization that specializes in training service dogs.
According to the reverend, Jeannie’s main duties are to comfort people by receiving pats and leaning against them.
Within the service itself, attendees were asked to donate what they could, with the day’s collection going to NEADS.
Rev. Clark said that she values the event as a fun way to start the school year, and enjoys the whimsical chaos involved.
Much of the service centered around the idea of the web of creation.
At one point Rev. Clark gathered the children present and walked them into the church’s edible forest garden, which she had earlier said was designed for the plants to “interact with and support each other.” This became evident as she taught the children about the interconnectedness of nature.
To do this, she singled out individual plants in the garden and talked about their uses, and then had a child visually connect the plant to something or someone that it affected with a streamer. For instance, one of the plants, which feeds songbirds, was connected to a person who likes the sound of songbirds. This continued until the garden was full of colorful streamers.
Rev. Clark ended the lesson by saying how the exercise symbolized “recognizing that all through our nature there are invisible threads that we have to take care of.”
Later in the service, there was a special moment to honor any pets of attendees that have passed on, starting with Rev.d Clark’s past cats Snowflake and Marshmallow.
Everyone was invited to call out the names of their companions who are no longer with them.
Throughout the service were performances by bluegrass band On the Fence, who played accompaniment for songs like All God’s Critters Got a Place in the Choir as well as playing instrumental music beforehand.
After the service came the opportunity for animals, and people, if they so wished, to get blessed.
Four congregants, 3 of them being youth members of the church, were stationed so that people could approach them with their pets, while Rev. Clark provided blessings while walking through the crowd.
After this, attendees were invited to stay for a picnic: the church was providing a lunch of “hot dogs and tofu pups.”
Photos by Framingham Source intern Melina List