Pets receive annual blessing at St. Francis Church

By Johnny Jackson

The blessing came on the eve of the Feast of St. Francis and in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The congregation of St. Francis portends to collect donations of money and pet toys it will send to the Humane Society in support of those pets harmed by the effects of the natural disasters.

St. Francis of Assisi Anglican Church hosted its 14th Annual Blessing of Pets. The ceremony in the back gardens of the church lasted from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Saturday.

"Our church is named in honor of St. Francis," said church Rector Michael Stranz, explaining. "He was a friend to the animals. When he couldn't find anyone to preach to, he'd preach to the animals."

Stranz said that the animal-friendly church has a few pet members who routinely attend services, sitting well-behaved on the church's benches.

"They're very much a part of our family, and they're very much a part of the church," he said. "Almighty God has given them to us for our enjoyment and our pleasure. Of course, we have a responsibility to take care of them and protect them. And they are a part of our family."

Stranz's daughter Christi Stranz stewards two Great Danes. And Saturday, she sent them to be blessed.

Duke is the more energetic of her two companions. She rescued Duke from an outdoor kennel in a breeder's backyard. As a result of the kennel conditions, she said, Duke became slightly aggressive with people. But the Great Dane seemed to respond well and gently to her, so she adopted him.

She was able to buy Rebel from a breeder, though. Five-year-old Rebel is the elder in the pair by about a month.

"They're great companions and excellent protectors," Stranz said. "Outside they run and do whatever you want. Inside they lie around the house."

She said she grew up playing with animals-caterpillars, dogs, cats, frogs, she went on. "I love all animals. I'm not too fond of roaches though."

Church member Joan Spring adopted a stray cat she named Rebel Grey.

"He's a fraidy cat," she said, the reason she did not take him to be blessed. "My husband added the Rebel to his name because he said he wears the Confederate colors. And he has a purple heart hanging from his neck. I always say, he got it in battle."

Members all around the church steward domestic animals. The congregation even cares for a house cat who lives in the church.

The love of animals there is prevalent in pet treats discretely placed in the church backyard, where homemade wooden cross structures line the property and seem to fortify those who enter its green garden.

The church, located at 199 North Main St. in Jonesboro, will continue to take donations for pet victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.