All God's creatures, including rats, are welcome at the annual blessing of pets at St. Mark's Episcopal Church. Here, the Rev. Fr. Michael Hiller blesses a young parishioner's rat. A key element of the service is keeping the terriers far away and up wind of the rats. Photo: Bruce Alexander

Twenty dogs, two cats, two rats and their assorted guardians came to St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Berkeley on Sunday for a Blessing of Pets.

The traditional ceremony is held annually on the Sunday following the feast of St. Francis Assisi, a saint revered for his kindness to animals (and the homeless). This year, the event place took at 9:30 a.m. on the lawn in front of the church at 2300 Bancroft Way.

Following the blessing, the pets took a break and reconvened in church.

Tim Sullivan, a member of the church, said the blessing of pets is often a “howling good time” — with dogs matching notes with the organ. “One year, a pet rat showed up and drove the terriers crazy,” he said. The absence of terriers this year prevented that particular problem.

One of only two cats at the service receives a blessing via the laying on of hands outside St. Mark's Episcopal Church at Bancroft and Ellsworth on Sunday October 9. Photo: Bruce Alexander

As well as tending to the animals in its congregation, St. Mark’s runs a host of programs in the city to help people in need. It feeds the homeless once a month (in cooperation with other churches who host meals on other days), brings meals to the city youth shelter’s YEAH! program, houses a suitcase clinic run by Berkeley students, and the church’s parishioners visit a convalescent home once a month. For more information, visit the church’s website.

Rusty, a golden retriever, rests in church during the service that followed his blessing, as his guardian, Kathy Yam, looks on. Photo: Tim Sullivan
Many parishioners bring their pets to church for a blessing. Photo: Bruce Alexander

Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...