On a recent snowy evening at St. George’s-by-the-River in Rumson, the monthly pet-friendly service was about to start. In addition to the monthly Blessing of the Animals—similar blessings are dispensed by many churches—St. George’s allows—actually, encourages—parishioners to bring their pets the second Saturday of each month, September through May.
“Our neighbors and our parishioners have animals, and we want church to be relevant for people,” says the Reverend Ophelia Laughlin, the Episcopal church’s rector. “The pets are mostly remarkably well-behaved,” she adds.
As the parishioners found their seats, a brown, black and white dachshund-beagle mix from Fair Haven named Hannah poked her head around a pew to check out the commotion in the aisle. Hannah’s owner, Marjorie Abson, had dressed her in a bright red sweater. The object of Hannah’s concern, a large golden retriever from Rumson named Chevy, passed with his owners, the Perrine family, and settled into a nearby pew. In another pew, Spanky, an elderly, Maltese rescue dog from Tinton Falls, reclined on a sheepskin blanket next to his owner, Heather Colella.
Roughly 15 dogs and a hamster named Whitey, owned by the Vothrock family of Shrewsbury, were in attendance. Noticeably absent was Zinnie the parrot, a frequent churchgoer who whistles along with the hymns. When the Vothrocks got in line with Whitey to receive the blessing, the little fellow seemed oblivious, racing madly on the wheel in his cage.
One month later, a larger crowd of more than 30 dogs and their owners braved winter’s chill. One parishioner placed a plastic black cat, perhaps a Halloween decoration, on her pew. Even the promise of a blessing wasn’t enough to convince her to bring her flesh-and-blood cats out in the cold.