The Rev. John Harper, pastor of St. John's Episcopal Church, laid his hands on the supplicants as they streamed forward in the bright sunshine of Lafayette Park. Ten-year-old Heidi Brinkmann had planned to bring her best friend for the blessing, but Annabelle had died the night before.

Annabelle was her cat.

"Animals like human beings deserve prayer and blessings," said Harper, who led 100 members of his congregation and passersby in the hymn "All Things Bright and Beautiful." He then blessed a gerbil named Robin Redbreast and 50 cats and dogs of every shape and size.

The Rev. John Jessup, the church's assistant minister, said blessing animals is nothing new to Anglicans -- ministers regularly blessed crops and farm animals on Rogation Day each May. "But we've updated the tradition to the 20th century to include pets, something St. Francis would have done," said Jessup.

"Bless you Budweiser, today and always," said Harper resting his hand on a friendly gray cat. "Bless you Liza Jane Troubles," he laughed, holding his hand over nothing but a large dog collar. Troubles' owner said although she wanted her dog blessed, Troubles "lives up to her name" so the family left her at home.

Holly Brinkmann, Heidi's twin sister, brought her white terrier, Mickey, hoping the blessing would "help [Mickey] get rid of her mites and fleas."

True Patchell, 9, had a different problem. He had wanted to participate in the ceremony, but he didn't have a pet. So his parents had spent the previous evening searching for a pet. They found their son a sleepy boxer puppy, which True cuddled throughout the rite.

Robin Redbreast, the only gerbil to make an appearance, slept in her yellow cage most of the morning. Cat owners managed to keep their pets from the jaws of dogs and except for entwining leashes and minor skirmishes, the 40 dogs remained on friendly terms.

Harper, who held the ceremony at the urging of John Walker, a Sunday school teacher, said he hopes to make pet blessing day a tradition at his church.