Today, Davidson College Presbyterian Church will hold a service to bless people's pets, recognizing that often it is the pets that do the blessing.
The third annual Blessing of the Animals service, which lasts about 20 minutes, will begin at 4 p.m. on the lawn of the church.
The Rev. Lib McGregor Simmons, Davidson College Presbyterian pastor, said the service is a way to celebrate how animals "bless humans in all kinds of ways." The service will include the singing of hymns such as "All Creatures of Our God and King," a moment of silence to remember pets that have died and a blessing.
Each caretaker will place his or hand on the animal, and together the people will repeat a short blessing. Prayers at the service will recognize service animals, animals that work and animals that are used in scientific research.
Simmons has led Blessing of the Animals services since 2006, and she said it has changed the way she approaches parts of her ministry.
"Before I did these services, I had never made a pastoral call on somebody who was experiencing the death of their pet," Simmons said.
At the services, she saw the strong connections between people and their pets.
"It has heightened my own awareness of the loss, particularly for people who are living alone, when their pet dies, of the need for some solace."
She has since counseled and visited with people who are grieving for pets.
The services primarily draw dog owners, but Simmons said she's also seen cats, turtles and gerbils. Caretakers can bring a picture of a pet in lieu of the live animal.
She's never witnessed an altercation between pets at a Blessing of the Animals event. "Dogs seem to have a sense that this is rather special, holy experience," Simmons said.
Simmons said she's received many notes from people who are thankful for the service.
"People were very moved that this aspect of their own relationship with God, their own spirituality, was acknowledged," she said.
Participants can bring lawn chairs, and they are invited to donate pet food as an offering. It will be given to the Loaves & Fishes Food Pantry at the Ada Jenkins Center.
The event is open to everyone, regardless of whether they attend Davidson College Presbyterian.
"It really is a kind of gift to the whole community," Simmons said.
"Every year, we have lot of people who would not ever step foot in a church sanctuary, but they do feel comfortable being part of this."