What’s become a March tradition for Mount Vernon United Methodist Pastor NAOMI ROBERTS — the blessing of the tractors, along with bags of corn, soybean seed and the occasional plant — goes down two weeks from Saturday in Champaign County.
Which got us to wondering: What other unique blessings have local pastors been asked to perform? Editor Jeff D’Alessio found out.
1. A gift for gearheads
Says KENT HOLLIS of Champaign’s Meadowbrook Community Church: “A high school friend who is an artist asked me to bless a cross made from Harley Davidson exhaust pipes for a fundraiser auction. It was at a biker bar in the beer garden where they were doing the auction.
“I was able to stand on the stage with this beautiful cross and share about what the cross means and prayed a blessing for it. I prayed that whoever saw the cross would understand what it means for them. It sold for a high price.
“Very interesting experience, praying on-stage in a beer garden.”
2. Fowled out
Just as she was about to bless the land and equipment at the Penfield Tractor Club, Broadlands/Ogden UMC Pastor KATHY MURPHY was approached by a woman holding a box filled with “some very energetic chickens.”
“It was all she could do to keep hold on the box as the chickens decided they were coming out,” she says.
MATT STUMP had a similar experience as he was about to preside over his first Easter service as Arcola UMC pastor. “Being raised in the Chicago area and this church being in central Illinois,” he says, “I wondered, ‘What have I got myself into?’”
3. Here, kitty, kitty
Muncie Baptist’s DAVID GARVER was called on to bless some 300 well-behaved Dachshunds at a regional festival celebrating the breed two years ago at the Vermilion County Fairgrounds.
The dogs didn’t give KEVIN LITTLE any problems at last summer’s pet blessing at Danville First UMC. But one cranky cat seemed more than a little miffed about the trip to church in a carrier — “and was even more unhappy about going back in” for the ride home.
4. Say what?
Just as then-Virginia Pastor MATT MATTHEWS was about to have to take a pass on little Bobby’s wish to bless his new chocolate lab — given that “Jesus instructed us to baptize nations, not dogs” — the kindergartner’s parents repeated the request.
“Young Bobby’s exact quote asked if Pastor Matt would bath-a-ma-tize his dog. Ah. bathamatize. Technically, I was off the ecclesiastical hook,” says Matthews, now the pastor at Champaign’s First Presbyterian.
“For his part, that crazy dog, vibrating with energy, knocked me down in the grass licking my ears with his excited tongue. Bobby, barely able to hang onto the leash, stood dutifully and gladly with his parents during the ceremony, pleased that I was doing my part to welcome this lovable beast into their family fold.”
5. For old time’s sake
It’s not every blessing of the backpacks ceremony that draws a 60-something-year-old, as happened at one run by Seymour/White Heath UMC Pastor SETH EMERSON. “This man was returning to school to get a higher degree for school administration,” he says. “I thought it was great and so did the kids.”
6. Baptism by bar
Says Community United Church of Christ Pastor LEAH ROBBERTS-MOSSER: “I’ve done house blessings and bike blessings. The most unique blessing — of sorts — I’ve ever done happened when I baptized a friend in a bar: Sister Louisa’s Church of the Sofa and Ping Pong Emporium in Atlanta.
“I was in town for a preaching convention along with a college buddy named January who had a great interest in theology. J and I decided to go out for the night with a group of clergy friends. As the night went on, the subject of baptism came up and January admitted she had never been baptized before.
“I said, ‘Well, we could do it right here — wouldn’t be the first time I’d baptized someone in a bar.’ That’s another story for another time.
“January thought about it. In the meantime, I went to the water cooler to get a cup of water. There was a sticker on the water cooler. It read ‘Fontis.’ I ran back to January. ‘Dude. There’s a sticker on the water cooler that says "Fontis," as in "This is a Font"! We really could baptize you here.’
“And that’s when January said that she did, in fact, want to be baptized — and so, we did. It was honest and glorious and when we were finished, we all held hands and prayed, right there in the bar.”