Faith in Action: Paws & Prayers

Anjuli Davis Reports

- For many of us, pets are a source of unconditional love. One Citrus County church is tapping into that joy.

"This is Earl Van Gray!" Linda Liebert-Hall laughed, introducing her long-haired cat.

It's a fancy name for a furball, but to Liebert-Hall, he is no ordinary feline. Her rescue, Earl, is family.

"It's just so calming. I guess it's just a reflection of Jesus for me. I just feel that excitement and that calm nature," she said.

The Episcopalian deacon proposed something scandalous to her congregation: welcoming that feeling into worship.

"The first couple of times we suggested this, that we even have the blessing in the church, there was concern. 'Oh, you can't have animals in the church," Liebert-Hall said.

As soon as the shock subsided, "Paws & Prayers" was born. It's a Sunday evening service where parishioners can bring along their pets.

Father George Conger of Shepherd of the Hills Episcopalian Church leads the sermons. He welcomes all walks of life into the santuary.

"It's part of God's creation. It's part of the gift of this beautiful world. And we celebrate that," he said.

The Fido-friendly stance is bringing more people through their doors, too.

"Most people who attend an Episcopal church are Episcopalian. We're brand conscious. Our animal services are really open to the community. We get an extrodinary amount of people from different faith backgrounds. From Catholics, to Baptists, to people who aren't really part of an organized religious organization," Conger said.

While people recieve communion, pets leave the service with treats. The service isn't always as quiet as a traditional Sunday, but it's a kind of chaos bringing people and pets together.

"You're going to have the barking, and you're going to have the people interacting...and that's the whole point. That whole love it just stays in the room. It's just amazing," Liebert-Hall smiled.

Aside from their pet service, Shepherd of the Hills Episcopal Church in Lecanto also has a pet food bank and a pet-sharing program for elderly parishioners.

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