Blessing the beasts to boost church involvement
October 5, 2011 —
Animal blessings were offered at various locations in the Upper Delaware region last weekend in celebration of St. Francis Feast Day, which occurs October 4. The event honors St. Francis, an Italian Catholic friar and preacher known as the patron saint of animals.
While a camel, a kangaroo, a tortoise and many more predictable pets received blessings at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in Morningside Heights, Manhattan, two Sullivan County churches saw dogs and cats during special ceremonies conducted at the Narrowsburg and Eldred United Methodist churches by pastor Linda Bohs.
Prompting the first-time local events was an effort to reach out to the animals’ owners as a means of encouraging their participation in the churches. “We are trying anything to increase attendance, because attendance at all churches is declining,” said Bohs, who has served as pastor for the past 13 years at Eldred, and since November at Narrowsburg. “Our main goal is to reach ‘the unchurched,’ those people who don’t normally attend church.”
The Eldred Church, completed in 1859, holds a special place in Bohs’ heart. Her great–great-grandfather Sherman Buckley Leavenworth was one of five people who donated the land for the church and helped to build it on the dry-laid stone foundation that remains intact today.
Bohs said that small churches are important to rural communities, because members get to know and support one another. Bohs is known for her nourishing chicken soup, which she doesn’t hesitate to make for an ailing church member or function.
“The church used to be the social place of the week for the old-timers,” said Bohs. “You’d have lunch afterwards and the men would talk about the crops and the women would talk about their sewing or baking or whatever. Now, everybody’s too busy. Like my mother always said to me, ‘God gives you 24/7; you can give him one hour a week.’”
One example of the Eldred Church’s ministry is to serve as the host church for Operation Christmas Child, which springs from the work of evangelist Billy Graham’s son, Franklin.
Franklin is president of Samaritan’s Purse, an international project that provides relief to victims of disasters such as hurricanes and floods (www.samaritanspurse.org/index.php/OCC). Church members fill shoeboxes with toys and other items, which are then shipped to children in war-torn or poverty-stricken nations. The deadline is approaching in early November. “It’s a local way to connect with an international relief effort,” said Bohs.