St Mary’s, Steeple Barton, Oxfordshire, 15 August 21

Looking back at the Gospel Bell news reports, our last pre-pandemic engagement was in February 2020 – a long time ago! As restrictions were easing in June 2021, Donald and I were glad to have been asked by Richard Becher, Minister of the United Reform Church, Broadway to lead their Sunday morning service on 13 June 2021. We played songs, led the prayers and shared insights and experiences about the heritage of the music we play.

Fast-forward to Sunday 15 August and Donald, Toni and I had the pleasure of playing at Gospel Bell’s first ever Pet Blessing service. This is an annual Barton Benefice event held at the largest of the five churches in the Benefice and we are grateful to the Revd., Jane Wright and her team for the invitation. As the organisers weren’t sure how the animals might react to a full band sound, we opted for a trio arrangement though we needn’t have worried as all of the animals that came along seemed to like our material! The sun shone and around 50 people arrived for the outdoor service, many bringing their pet dogs and one person arrived on her horse and joined us for the photo below.

Left to right: Richard, Donald, Toni, Jane Wright and the horse and rider at the St Mary’s Pet blessing service

Jane and her team have a welcoming and inclusive format for this annual service and this year, instead of a sermon, Donald provided a story about St Francis and his relationship with animals. Donald’s input was fascinating and it seemed to me that the animal guests were enjoying the story too. Jane’s feedback comment was as follows: A huge thank you again for playing today. The service had a really good feel and I’m sure everyone enjoyed the music you gave us before and after as well. As for Donald’s story-telling, we loved it! I very much hope you’ll be able to come again.

We are already looking forward to a return visit!

Richard Teare