Believe and be heeled

For many people, pets and religion have several things in common: comfort, companionship and unconditional love. And the Mills River Presbyterian Church is giving pet owners a chance to bring the two together, becoming the latest local church to offer a "Blessing of the Pets" service — this one on Saturday, July 25.

Not just a pat on the head: Mills River Presbyterian is the latest local church to host a pet blessing. Here, the Rev. Tony Sayer of Abernethy United Methodist Church in Asheville delivers his blessings in a 2008 ceremony. Photo by Jason Sandford

It's a trend that's emerging both nationally and locally, and there's no shortage of takers, notes congregation member Kathy Ziprik. "We got the idea from other churches," she says, "and we got requests from the congregation. They thought this was very cool."

Just so there's no confusion, this is an actual hands-on blessing for your furry friends, administered by Pastor Randall Boggs. "Animals play such a role in people's lives," notes Ziprik. And when people are feeling frustrated and uncertain about things like the economy, she adds, "By golly, you've got your pet."

Along with the service, prayers and blessing, there'll also be a reading of "The Rainbow Bridge," a widely circulated short story (author unknown) describing a place where deceased pets romp and play, waiting for their owners to join them so they can cross the bridge into heaven together.

So far, the congregation's response has been enthusiastic, says Ziprik, adding that when the event was announced, one church friend immediately began texting others about it. But pets and their owners aren't the only ones who'll benefit. The love offering from the service will go to Henderson County Animal Services, where Boggs recently adopted a dog.

"We're a congregation of animal lovers," he says. "We welcome everyone to celebrate the lives of their pets and share this special service with us."

The Blessing of the Pets service will take place Saturday, July 25, at 10 a.m. at Mills River Presbyterian Church, 10 Presbyterian Church Road in Horse Shoe. All pets should be either leashed or crated.

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