Unity of Montclair
84 Orange Road
On Facebook: tinyurl.com/yyww7hh6
Emails about pets and requests for blessings can be sent through the website.
By GWEN OREL
When she talked about Cooper, Kathy Bailey choked up.
The golden Lab was an unofficial mascot of Unity of Montclair.
Bailey, one of the church’s prayer chaplains, was one of the readers in a virtual pet blessing taking place on Facebook Live and on Zoom.
The church has been holding live pet blessings for about 10 years. When COVID-19 hit, the chaplains reluctantly canceled the event.
But members began lobbying to hold it online. This past Sunday, July 19, Unity of Montclair held a virtual pet blessing, following the weekly service.
The Rev. Les Henson told congregants to bring their pets near to the screen.
“Place your hands on them, or just pet them for a minute,” he said. Then he asked the congregation to repeat after him, and read their own pet’s name when the slide read “this pet” or “your furry friend.”
(This reporter gave a prayer of thanks because her ginger cat Sophie had just returned the day before from a mysterious four-day walkabout.)
People were also encouraged to put the pet’s name in the Zoom chat, email or call.
Then Bailey spoke about Cooper, and other pets who have passed on. “Thank you, Cooper, for being part of our family,” she said.
A slide came up with an image of the rainbow: pets going over the Rainbow Bridge, where they wait for their beloved humans to join them.
“There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together… all the animals who have been ill and old are restored to health and vigor,” Bailey
read. “The animals are happy and content. Except for one small thing. They each miss someone very special to them who they had to leave behind. … The day comes, when one suddenly stops. And looks into the distance. Bright eyes are intent. His eager body quivers. …. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.
“You have been spotted. And when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in a joyous reunion, never to be parted again. …
“And you look once more into the trusting eyes of the pet so long gone from life but never absent from your heart. And then you cross the Rainbow Bridge together.”
The Rev. Kim Heilig concluded the pet blessing: “God bless the animals, for they are essential to the balance of nature.”
A slide show of much-loved congregants’ pets, including dogs, cats, ducks, pigs and lizards, was shown over James Taylor singing “You’ve Got a Friend.”
The pet blessing, Bailey said after the service, is important because “pets are really important for our life.”
Henson agreed. “It’s important to keep some sense of normalcy,” he said. “And this is something we normally do every year like clockwork. We even had one pet blessing in the rain.
“We wanted to serve our church and community.”
Pets, said Heilig, “bring us so much love and light. At this particular time, pets are very
comforting for people, providing the personal touch and the love that people need right now.” A picture of one of her cats was on the slide of the Rainbow Bridge.
“We got a comment from one of our parishioners, she said her pet had passed away years ago, and she was very comforted by this, even though it was a long time ago,” Heilig said. “We told her she can come anytime. It makes no difference when they passed away. They’re always included in a blessing.”
Blessing the pets is compatible with Unity of Montclair’s theology, Henson said: “We’re a church that talks about consciousness, and there is consciousness behind those eyes of our pets. There’s love.”
People have brought their cats, dogs, even a ferret.
Cooper belonged to Tynia (pronounced Tanya) Thomassie and her husband, Dave Stryker.
“They would bring him to meetings,” Bailey said. “He became a very valuable part of our church. And we wanted to do something to recognize his time with us.”
Thomassie watched the pet blessing with her new little dog Sadie, a rescue who might be part Jack Russell. She is a “little more high-strung” than Cooper, who had trained to be a Seeing Eye dog, Thomassie said.
Her husband Dave shed a tear during the Cooper tribute.
“We were so distraught when Cooper died. We had him for 17 years,” she continued. “I was a board member. He used to come to board meetings and lie at my feet. He was part of our fundraising efforts.
“A lot of people at the church fell in love with Cooper. It was special to see that tribute.” The pet blessing, Thomassie said, is “such a part of our home. Pets have just as much spirit as a human. They are wise in silent ways. They help us through our traumas just by giving unconditional love.
“Recognizing unconditional love is something Unity of Montclair is about.”