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West Valley City • It's not often that you see dogs and other pets attending Sunday services, but once every year members of St. Stephens Episcopal Church are invited to bring their critters to church for a blessing.
"I call this Sunday holy chaos," said Rev. W. Lee Shaw, the church's rector. "It's very popular."
Thus, as a choir sang a hymn, an occasional bark or whine could be heard. When the service got quiet, there were times the only sounds were those of dogs panting.
Shaw has held the popular ceremony for years, mostly close to Oct. 4, which is the feast day for St. Francis, known for befriending a wolf and for his kindness to all living creatures.
The saint gave up all of his earthly wealth and lived like a hermit until finding a community of poor friars who became the Franciscans, who took a vow of poverty.
Dogs, a cat in a kennel and a teddy bear held by 7-year-old Nick Rice marked the most unusual pets seen at the service Sunday, where the animals were quite well behaved. In case there was an "accident," the church provided materials to clean it up. Families and neighbors were invited to participate in the service.
Shaw said that in the past he has blessed a llama, hamsters, one snake, a couple of turtles, a lizard or two and, at one service, four horses. They weren't invited into the church, however. The pastor opened the door of their trailer and blessed them there.
He even brought his own two dogs, a German shepherd and a sheltie, and also blessed a sheltie brought to the service by Episcopal Bishop Scott Hayashi.
Church member Tonya Evans, of Magna, called having her two dogs with a her "a little weird" but is used to interesting times on Sunday because she usually brings her 2-year-old.
"This just adds to the insanity, but it's enjoyable," she said adding that, in the case of her chihuahua, she wasn't sure whether this would be a blessing or an exorcism.
Cheryl Jenson, noting that her dog is her only companion, said, "If people can get blessed, dogs can get blessed."
Marjorie Bull, of West Valley City, said the animals often behave better than people. She enjoys seeing the different types of animals that come to the service each year.
Editor's note: This version corrects the name of the church.