KINGWOOD, NJ – About a dozen dogs and a gecko were recently welcomed to First Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Hunterdon church.

There were no unhappy disagreements among the special guests, although Rev. Seth Fisher was a little concerned about the fortunes of the gecko should he attempt escape when the top of his home was lifted for the blessing.

There were no cats.

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That’s probably as it should be, Fisher said. “When you care about your pet, you don’t want it traumatized.”

Catholic churches have been celebrating a blessing of the animals service for 600 years in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and the environment, who died in Italy in 1226. The practice has spread to other denominations in recent years, and it’s one that Fisher believes is lighthearted and makes people happy, but that also has a deeper meaning.

“The theological underpinnings are two main things,” Fisher said. “We are constantly trying to be welcoming. For example, we always have a little welcome at the service and this year we added a welcome in Spanish. We like to include different kinds of families, those with two dads or two moms.

“These different connections, which for some are between humans and a pet or two and expanding to different kinds of people and different kinds of families, are an effort to be more welcoming,” Fisher said.

“For us, the more that we can expand our circle of compassion and respect for other creatures, the better off we are. This is a way of honoring and welcoming and as a spiritual practice to grow.”

For information about First Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Hunterdon County, visit its website.