Kevin and Diane McIntyre's cats George, Panda Bear, Bazooka, Chloe and Thumper remained rather calm Sunday as Rev. Sam Edleman blessed them with holy water at the Ascension Episcopal Church in Westminster. The felines were among 25 pets brought by more than 100 parishioners for the church's annual Blessing of the Animals service held outside the sanctuary.
"This is our favorite service. We love our pets very much and view them as part of our family. It's very important we bring them to this service," said Kevin McIntyre, of Westminster.
According to Sandy White, the church's publicity chairperson, the Blessing of the Animals has been held annually for at least 20 years.
"It's a service that really draws people in. We have such a variety of animals and amazingly they all seem to get along," White said.
Lynn Lyon-Vaiden, a member of the vestry, said parishioners look forward to the service.
"It brings us all together. It's a great witness to our community because everyone is outside," Lyon-Vaiden said.
Rev. Samuel Nsengiyumva and Rev. Sam Edleman blessed each pet individually saying, "May you be blessed in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. May you and [name of pet's owner] enjoy life together and find joy with the God who created you."
Nsengiyumva, who grew up in Uganda, explained the service has special meaning for him.
"Before I came to America, I had a very limited view of animals and their role in our lives," Nsengiyumva said. "After studying the Bible, I realized that animals model what it is to be loyal, loving and kind. They deserve to be blessed."
Nsengiyumva told the congregation the definition of blessing means to acknowledge, to approve or to support something.
"We approve of the pets. We recognize their value and support their roles in our lives. This blessing evokes God's favor and protection," Nsengiyumva said.
Nsengiyumva's sermon included a reading from Genesis.
"Then God said, 'And now we will make human beings; they will be like us and resemble us. They will have power over the fish, the birds, and all animals, domestic and wild, large and small,' " Nsengiyumva recited.
Kelsey Goff, 13 of Union Bridge, said she was very excited to bring her dog, Juliet, a Chihuahua-poodle mix, to the blessing. Kelsey and Juliet were joined by Kelsey's father Robin, mother Carrie and their cat Pax.
"We feel that it's important to bless our pets because they're also creatures of God," Kelsey said.