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The Rev. Sandy Cooper of Christ United Methodist Church in Georgetown prays over Boomer, a golden retriever, as his owner, right, looks on during a Blessing of the Animals ceremony at the church’s shelter house on Dec. 3. Photos by Chris Adams

What a blessing

December 14, 2011
"The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox." — Isaiah 11:6-8

It may not have been quite like the scene portrayed in the Book of Isaiah, but it was pretty close as several dogs, a chicken, two rabbits, a cat and a rat were blessed during a service at Christ United Methodist Church in Georgetown on Sunday afternoon, Dec. 3.

One by one, the Rev. Sandy Cooper prayed over the animals, soothingly calling each by name and telling them that they were created and loved by God.

Austin Leidolf and his dog, Autumn, listen during the service.
"I think that animals are not only creatures of God and we are to take care of them, they teach us so much," she said later.

A steady, cold rain may have kept some people from bringing larger animals, such as horses and goats, but the Blessing of the Animals service, held at the church's shelter house, still was well attended.

"It was delightful to have rabbits and a chicken and even a rat," Cooper said.

With a fire going to help take the nip out of the air and Steve Bradley's gently strummed acoustic guitar setting the mood, Cooper opened the service by sharing how animals are a gift from God and the importance they play in people's lives, including providing companionship.

She read about the creation in Genesis 1 and gave examples from elsewhere in the Bible of how God used animals, including Noah and his ark, Jonah and the giant fish, a raven bringing bread to Elijah and how animals were included in the repentance of Nineveh.

In between, animal-related hymns were sung: "God of the Sparrow, God of the Whale," "This is My Father's World" and "Friendly Beasts."

Mary Gettelfinger brings her pet rat, Luna, to be blessed. She also brought a chicken and two rabbits.
"God, bless the animals — the pets and all the animals which God gave us to love and care for, and who bless us by their presence and their love," Cooper prayed. "Hold us close as we remember dear pets who have departed from life on this earth, but not from our hearts. …

"Thank you for their companionship, and where it is appropriate, grant us the ability to train them to help us in work and play. Just as the Bible says, you care for each sparrow, you care for each animal of the earth. You care for these animals brought here today."

At the end, Cooper invited pet owners to bring their animals up front so she could pray for them individually and give each a certificate. She was joined by Dr. Julie Janes of Georgetown Veterinary Clinic. Janes isn't a member of the church, but volunteered to answer any questions of pet owners.

Cooper, who has been the pastor of Christ UMC for a year and a half, believes the service is the first of its kind for the church, whose Sunday morning attendance averages between 30 and 50 people.

She got the idea for the service after seeing many people walk their dogs at the church, which is located along Canal Street, and thought it would be a good way to connect with people outside the church.

"We really want to reach out to the community and be a blessing," Cooper said, noting the service did that.

"There were both (in attendance)," she said. "We had some folks from the church, but we had several from the community, and we were thrilled with that."

Besides the Blessing of the Animals service, the church hosted a "Dealing with Grief and the Holiday Blues" session with the Rev. Dr. Linda Penrod Million, the clinical director at Personal Counseling Services in Clarksville, on the Monday following Thanksgiving.

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