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Centerville • A passel of those who rarely if ever show up at church attended Vicar Lyn Briggs' Saturday service.
But that wasn't the reason it was so special. Nor was it because whimpering, yelping, heavy panting and even a few barks replaced the usual organ music.
The Blessing of the Beasts at the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection was exceptional because it allowed the faithful to celebrate with all their family, including those with paws and hooves.
"It's so joyous," said Briggs, commenting on the people-pet tradition. "And I connect with people where they feel the most love and the least conflict in their lives."
This year 17 animals attended the church's annual service honoring St. Francis of Assisi, the 13th century friar often seen in pictures surrounded by wolves and birds.
Families dropped by the Centerville church with a horse and two cats along with the usual pack of dogs. Also invited were lizards, guinea pigs and all other animals regardless of denomination but they were no-shows this year, on a fittingly bluebird day.
Biggs greeted many by name: Fenway, the happy golden retriever; Milly, the part corgi donning a Utes sweater; Stubby, a butterscotch-colored mutt; and Layton, the sullen orange and white cat that swiped at a few curious dogs from inside his Pet Taxi carrier.
"He hasn't been blessed before," noted Paul Calef, "and he needs it."
Sissy, an almost-4-month-old German shepherd, was the youngest and fidgeted through the formalities.
Beagle Quincy had missed the blessing at his Salt Lake City parish last weekend, so owners Greg Colf and Stephen Burch brought the retired University of Utah test-lab dog to Briggs' service.
"Animals are a big part of our lives, and I like belonging to a church that recognizes that," said Colf.
Rys Harwood wrangled Freckles, a cheerful Shih Tzu adopted earlier this year. The 10-year-old's mother, Katie, said getting a benediction at the family parish showed "He's part of the family."
The ceremony completed, Freckles headed back to the car grinning, a snippet of tongue lolling from the side of his mouth.
Stormy, a one-eyed gray horse, dozed through the proceedings. His owner, Anne Blankenship, explained he was losing teeth and might not be around for next year's special prayers.
"If he's going to make it through the winter," she said, "he's sure going to need a blessing."
The celebration continues through the usual Sunday morning service. That's where children can bring their stuffed animals for a blessing, and departed or fussy pets represented in a photo can receive a benediction.
More blessings ahead
At the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection, the celebration continues Sunday. At the 10 a.m. service, children can bring their stuffed animals for a blessing, and departed or stay-at-home pets can be blessed via photo. The church is at 1131 S. Main St., Centerville.
St. Stephen Episcopal Church, 4615 S. 3200 West, West Valley City, will have its Blessing of the Beasts in the church cats on one side, dogs on the other during the regular 11 a.m. Sunday service.
All Saints Episcopal Church will welcome pets to 8 a.m., 10 a.m. and noon services on Oct. 14. The church is located at 1710 Foothill Drive, Salt Lake City.