DANVERS — The Rev. Thea Keith-Lucas began last night's service at Calvary Episcopal Church in Danvers with an important public service announcement.
"Don't be afraid if your friend needs to walk around or talk during the service," she told the two dozen-or-so people and their canine friends.
On cue, in walked Addy, a Chinese crested powderpuff, with her owner, Lis Carey of Lawrence. Instantly, the room erupted in a chorus of barks, as suddenly-alert mutts looked around, angling to get a good glimpse or sniff of the late arrival. When order was restored, Keith-Lucas resumed.
During the course of the 45-minute service, prayers were said, hymns were sung, and blessings were given to each and every furry friend whose owner wanted it.
The service, part of the Perfect Paws Pet Ministry at the church, has been a once-a-month occurrence since May, when people were first invited to bring their dogs. In September, the church began allowing pets of all kinds to attend, and the people — and animals — have come in droves.
"We said we'd give it a try in May, and here we are in November," Keith-Lucas said. "It just keeps growing in the community and in depth of experience."
"This is a first in the country as far as I know," said Fran Weil, the pet chaplain, and the woman who came to Keith-Lucas with the idea of starting a pet ministry. "It was a classic example of what-if. What if we extend services to animals? Some people come to church because of their animals; that's how they found God. ...
"People have a need to know that their animals mean something and might have a soul," Weil said. "We celebrate these creatures that God has created and firmly believe God has a place for them in heaven."