The animals didn’t exactly come two-by-two to Trinity Lutheran Church on Sunday afternoon. But their excited barking and meowing seemed to indicate they were aware something special was about to happen.

That something special was the Blessing of the Animals service, conducted on the front lawn of the church, 2703 Fort, by Pastor Marie Sager.

Sager blessed 27 animals, 14 present and 13 in absentia. Church members had been told they could bring their animals or pictures of them.

Sager said the blessing of the animals goes back to St. Francis of Assisi, who was famous for his love of animals. St. Francis said, “God requires that we assist the animals when they need our help. Each being has the same right of protection.”

The feast day for St. Francis is Oct. 4, so some churches do the service on that day or on the Sunday closest to it, Sager said.

She has been pastor at Trinity for two years, and although she never had conducted a service blessing animals before, she participated in one when she was in seminary. She said she is hoping to make the service an annual event at Trinity.

“To me, this blessing is a time to celebrate the animal members of our family. They are important to us, and they are part of our families,” Sager said.

“A blessing is wishing goodness on someone. The blessing is for the animals, but also for us, because of the love they bring into our lives.”

The scripture readings Sager chose for the service were Genesis 1:1, 20-28, the story of God creating the animals and giving humans “dominion” over them, and Psalms 8:1-9, a prayer acknowledging God’s glory and mankind’s responsibility to care for God’s creatures.

Joey and Shenel Berens brought their three horses and Don Juan, their donkey, to the service.

“It’s something wonderful we can do for them,” Shenel Berens said, adding this was an extra special blessing because two of their mares, Betty and Maddy, are in foal. “We’re pretty excited about that.”

Cheryl Duffy also had a special reason for bringing her 4-week-old kitten to the service.

“He’s had a rough start in life, and I wanted to get him blessed as we become a family,” she said.

Duffy’s great-niece found the kitten, covered with fleas, abandoned on the Fort Hays State University campus. His mother had been killed.

Duffy said she and her husband, Bob, already have two other pets, a dog and a cat, “but I guess God wanted us to have another one.”

Duffy, an English professor at FHSU, named the kitten “Radley” after the character Boo Radley in the novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee. Like his namesake, the kitten “has been very brave,” she said.

Sager said for those who couldn’t make it to the service, she is willing to do an individualized blessing — whether the owner is a church member or not.

Some people have pictures of animals who have passed on and want them blessed, she said. She also knows of situations where stuffed animals have been blessed.

“To a little kid, that stuffed animal may seem alive,” she said. “It may be the only animal Mom and Dad let them have.”

The blessing Sager says over each animal is the same: “You were created by God, and you are loved by God. May you and your human family experience joy and companionship together and continue to be a blessing to each other. “

Sager can be reached at (785) 625-2044 or at tlcpr@eaglecom.net.