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Federated Church will hold ‘Blessing of the Animals’

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AYER — People sometimes take for granted how important animals are in our everyday lives. From the milk we use in our cereal or coffee, to the meat we eat and leather products we wear and carry, to the household pets that keep us company and the horses we ride. Animals touch our lives in so many different ways it’s hard to imagine what our lives would be like without them.

The Federated Church of Ayer will celebrate the magnificent creatures with their third annual “Blessing of the Animals” creative worship service this Sunday at 10 a.m. on the church’s front lawn.

“Human beings tend to forget we’re animals, too,” Rev. Priscilla Denham said. “The service is to help us realize our interconnected relationship.”

The “Blessing of the Animals,” generally held in October, originated some 700 years ago with St. Francis of Assisi.

“St. Francis preached how we are all God’s creatures,” Denham said. “It’s often done in October because of St. Francis Feast Day. But in New England, well, it can get mighty cold here and with the service held outside we decided to do it the last Sunday in June.”

Denham over the years has developed her own service for the “Blessing of the Animals.”

“I’ve written prayers and songs to go along with ‘Old MacDonald,'” she said. “It’s fun; the kids sing along to the song.”

After the service, animal owners will line up for Denham to bless each and every animal, on its own.

“I actually touch and pronounce each one,” she said. “If they are smaller I get down on my hands and knees to bless them. “I even call each animal by their name and if I know the owner’s name I’ll include their name in the blessing. I bless the relationship between the owner and the animal.”

Three years ago, during the first “Blessing of the Animals” Denham said the congregation was a bit nervous about having the service outside of the church because worship is supposed to take place inside the church and Mother Nature looked like she wasn’t going to cooperate.

“It really looked like it was going to rain throughout the entire service, but it didn’t,” Denham said. “I found out later that afternoon that the Red Sox had been rained out. That tells me God wants me to have this service.”

The church holds creative worships the last Sunday of each month with a different theme to each one.

“Creative worship tries to engage the whole being in some way,” Denham said. “Each service is an attempt to engage our ears, sense of taste, smell and to stimulate our bodies to hear the message in a new way.

“Jesus said we should love God with our whole heart, mind, soul and physical being. These services are to help us worship with our whole beings.”

Some of the creative worship Denham has held in the past include a Communion service in which she had bread baking in the oven during the service, so the congregation could smell it.

Saint Paul said in one of his letters that people should greet one another with a holy kiss, so Denham decided to turn that into a creative worship.

“Complete strangers in New England are not going to greet each other with a kiss,” she said with a laugh. “So, I brought in Hershey Kisses and had them exchange them with one another and then they got to eat a piece of chocolate in church.”

They may not be the traditional services you would expect to find in a church, but the congregation at the Federated Church of Ayer seems to embrace them.

“I think these services are a way to set ourselves free from the way we think church is supposed to be,” Denham said. “Creative worship is worship, art, sensation, having to be open and having the ability to let the spirit free.”

Everyone is invited to the “Blessing of the Animals” on Sunday but Denham requests each animal either be on a leash or in a carrier so others don’t get frightened.

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