For the fourth year in a row, Burnt Store Presbyterian Church is opening its arms and doors to furrier members of the family.

On October 6 at 9 a.m. pet owners from across the community, whether or not they are affiliated with the church, are welcome to bring their pets in for a blessing.

Blessing of the Animals stems from St. Francis of Assisi’s recognition that animals are just as much a part of God’s creation as humans.

“Eight hundred years ago is when [St. Francis] lived. He died on October 4, so that is the Feast of Saint Francis,” said Pastor Tim Stewart on why they event occurs at this time of year.

“The story goes he was considering his career, his future, what God wanted him to do with his life. Supposedly, he was walking through the woods and the animals were there and he starts proclaiming the word of God to the animals.”

The program takes place in the main portico of the church, providing shade and shelter from the elements.

“Our first year it was typical Florida weather with crazy thunder and rain and then the sun was shining, then more rain and, finally, by the time we started, it was perfect sunshine again,” Stewart said.

Man’s best friend will have plenty of time to meet and greet other attendees before Stewart calls the event to order, and lots of water and plastic bags — just in case Fido has to use the restroom — will be available. Once Stewart has the attention of the audience, he will lead a call-and-response-style liturgy before individually meeting each and every animal.

“In 2015, we had 100 animals, about 95 dogs and 5 cats. That’s kind of been our number over the years. Some are repeats and some are new, people do anything for their animals. It’s wonderful to have all those dogs on the property — cats are usually in their carriers because they aren’t really leash animals. I had the privilege of blessing an Irish Wolfhound. I mean, he stood that tall,” he said, gesturing 3 feet off the ground.

Typically, the blessing pets receive goes something like, “May you be blessed in the name of the father, the son and the holy spirit. May you and your humans enjoy life together with our lord,” though the pets don’t always have the patience for that. Each owner also receives a small medallion, engraved with cartoon cats and dogs and a short prayer, perfect for a collar.”

Animals of all shapes and sizes are welcome at the event, “from snakes and St. Bernards to frogs and felines,” according to the church’s press release.

“We’ve yet to be asked to bless an exotic, it’s always been cats and dogs. No snakes, no birds, nothing like that, but we’ll see, that could change at any time,” Stewart said.

This year, Burnt Store will also be partnering with the Animal Welfare League, who will bring plenty of dogs and cats available for rescue to the event.

Attendees might even get to meet Stevie, Stewart’s loving Golden Retriever who often hangs out in the church office, greeting and accepting head rubs from all those who walk in.

“I’m trusting that this is a tradition that has been born at Burnt Store Church and that the church will continue certainly as long as I’m here but hopefully after I’m gone, as well,” Stewart said.

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