DILLON - On Sunday, the lawn outside Lord of the Mountains Lutheran Church was crowded with locals and their pets. They gathered for the renewal of the church's annual pet blessing, which occurs the day before St. Francis of Assisi's day of commemoration.
Locals were carrying cat crates, toting dogs on leashes, carefully handling plastic jars containing fish, and even bearing the ashes of a former pet.
Tina Oberheide balanced a canary cage. She had hoped it might sing along with the hymns, which were part of a brief service prior to pastors Darlene Muschett and Joe Holub performing the blessings.
"Pets are an important part of people's lives, particularly in Summit County" Oberheide said. "This is a way to make them special for a day."
The pet blessing was last done by the church several years ago before taking a multi-year hiatus, Holub explained. They hold it prior to the commemoration day for St. Francis of Assisi because the saint was known for his appreciation of nature.
"His brotherhood was all of God's creation," Muschette said. "His love of nature was so deep."
The service included hymns and readings from Genesis and Psalm 104, which praise all of creation, particularly its animals.
Muschette, who is the part-time director of Children's Ministries, explained that she wanted to bring back the event to have another way to draw in members, particularly children.
"What really gets me going is the idea that we are doing this with our children and our neighbors," she said. "We are celebrating God's joy and God's love for all God has created."
Amelia Blackwell and Rex Andrews carried their fish, both named Sparky, to the pet blessing. They chatted about their other pets, which include five other fish - all named Sparky, too - and four cats and two dogs. Blackwell said her house often has 12 pets.
Meanwhile, a chocolate lab named Lucy sniffed and scooted toward Queinca, Abby Hiller's large cat.
"She has two cats of her own," Lucy's owner, Val McComb, said. "She thinks all cats like her, which probably isn't true."
Annie, a Newfoundland, was present at the ceremony. Ten months old and 140 pounds, she inspired the pastors to marvel at her size. They then laid their hands on the big, black dog and Holub said, "Blessed are you, Lord God, maker of all living creatures."
"You inspired St. Francis to call them all his brothers and sisters," Muschette said. Together they added, "In God's name, we bless Annie."
And so the pastors went, blessing each in the circle of pets and owners - even a youngster's stuffed Barney, the purple dinosaur, who he toted to the ceremony as well as Mame Madsen's photos of her two rabbits, who she had left at home for fear they'd be frightened by all the dogs.
"Pets really enhance our lives. They're healing," Holub said. "They are a source of joy, happiness and interaction. This is a way to celebrate that in the framework of our faith."
SDN reporter Janice Kurbjun can be contacted at (970) 668-4630 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.