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Pastor Darrell Morton gives Bailey a blessing Sunday during a celebration of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Blessing the naughty and the nice

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news Park Rapids, 56470
Park Rapids Minnesota PO Box 111 56470

For Schnapps, a traditional Franciscan blessing might have been asking for a lot.

The Schnauzer-mix mutt has a tendency to run over to his neighbors' yard and piddle on the saints that adorn the lawn.

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So the incorrigible dog joined a number of better-behaved canines in the parking lot of Bethany Lutheran Church in Nevis Sunday morning for the annual pet blessing that coincides with the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals.

There, Schnapps started with a clean slate, since the Lutherans didn't know him.

(Disclosure time: Schnapps belongs to my mother. He's an obedience school dropout, as strong-willed and stubborn as his owner can be, but cute as the dickens and not above playing that card. A devout Episcopalian, his owner wasn't convinced he needed a Lutheran blessing, but he needed some type of divine intervention. St. Francis, or Frank as he is called at Schnapps' home, is pretty nondenominational. Schnapps piddles on that garden statue as well.)

In the church parking lot, he met Mr. Buck, the perfectly trained Springer spaniel belonging to Ed and Joy Waln of Wadena. Buck was immediately pounced on by the gray interloper.

Blame it on the sweater. Schnapps had been dressed in a brand new sweater. He looked like a gray sausage stuffed into a turquoise casing. All the cookies he nibbles on have made him outgrow a size medium, so he arrived a bit cranky in ill-fitting attire.

A flock of geese flew overhead. Buck silently watched them soar over the church. Schnapps went into a barking tirade that could be heard throughout Nevis.

Parish members brought other dogs to the parking lot while Pastor Darrell Morton assembled his flock.

Two legged, not four legged.

But Morton seemed equally well acquainted with some of his four-legged flock.

"Oh here comes Odie!" he said as a black dog the size of a horse came bursting into the crowd, pulling at his leash.

During a group blessing, in which Morton mentioned how much animals contribute to human lives, a high-pitched howl could be heard. It was Schnapps.

Morton individually blessed each canine, including sweet little Bailey.

"He looks so sad each Sunday when I leave for church," said owner Betty Kelley. "This time I told him, 'You can go.'"

Mr. Buck accepted his blessing with encouragement from Ed. The spaniel looked like he was trying to vamoose when the white-robed man approached him.

Schnapps, held by Joy Waln, was equally dubious but allowed a gentle patting on the head as Morton, unruffled, continued canine by canine.

Other pets not in attendance were blessed in absentia. At one point during the short service, someone, maybe Morton, could be heard saying, "God help us."

It was unclear if that was a part of the service, or a separate plea. Nevertheless, the service continued indoors without a hitch as Lutherans celebrated the joys of Christianity and pet ownership.

Morton said he'd like to have an annual pet blessing at his churches in Nevis and Akeley, where he held a second service for all God's creatures later Sunday morning.

"Francis of Assisi is recognized in the liturgical calendar; he's been pretty much embraced across Christendom in many ways even though there was no Reformation when Francis was around," Morton said. "That was several hundred years before Martin Luther."

But St. Francis has a universal appeal. "His sense of the world and all that being a gift from God is something that resonates with people," Morton said. "The blessing of the animals is something I've wanted to do for some time."

Schnapps seemed subdued after his blessing and moped on his couch. Then the turquoise sweater was removed and he sprang back to life.

During his evening walk he exuberantly piddled on the neighbors' BVM (Blessed Virgin Mary.) Then he went home, grabbed his kitty by the tail and pulled him around the living room floor until the predictable yowl interrupted the dusting.

Like obedience school lessons, blessings may take awhile to absorb and require frequent repetition.

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