Posted Online: Feb. 15, 2013, 11:00 am

Beasts big and small blessed at Lenten series

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By Claudia Loucks,

Photo: Claudia Loucks / correspondent
Mandy Turnbull, left, head zoo keeper at Niabi Zoo, Coal Valley, introduces "Eduardo," a 12-year-old Eclectus parrot, to Sharon Frank, chairwoman of the 2013 Lenten series at First Congregational United Church of Christ, Geneseo. Ms. Turnbull and "Eduardo" will be guests at the first program of the "Bless the Beasts" Lenten series, at 7 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 21, in the church's Fellowship Hall, 319 South State St., Geneseo.
GENESEO -- Scriptures say God, the creator, loves all creatures, big and small.

The Biblical connection between human beings and animals led First Congregational United Church of Christ, Geneseo, to offer a Lenten series titled "Bless the Beasts," according to chairwoman Sharon Frank

Programs will be for all ages and open to the public. They will be held at 7 p.m. Thursdays, from Feb. 21 through March 21, in the church's Fellowship Hall. Refreshments will be served. For information, call 309-944-3389.

"We know from Biblical readings that Jesus appeared to befriend the wild beasts," Mrs. Frank said.

For example, Isaiah 11: 6-9 describes a peaceful kingdom, in which "the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.
"The cow and the bear shall feed; their young shall like down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox," continues the passage. "The sucking child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea."

The Lenten series topic will be an important church outreach, according to the Rev. Bruce Bergthold.

"Animals are as much a part of God's creation as people are; therefore, we respect and honor them through His realm of love," Rev. Bergthold said. "Christians believe in the authority of God as creator. Because God made all creatures, we honor and respect the grace of God found there."

The church will continue to "Bless the Beasts," with a special service in June on its west lawn for people to bring their pets and celebrate "all living things in God's creation," he said.

Although there will be no size limitations of animals brought to the summer outdoor service, "we ask that giraffes, tigers and rhinos be left at home," Rev. Bergthold said.

Dates, guest speakers, and topics, for the church's "Bless the Beasts" Lenten series are:
Feb. 21: Mandy Turnbull, head a zookeeper at Niabi Zoo, Coal Valley, and 10 exotic animals: "We will hear why the zoo has been successful for nearly 50 years," Mrs. Frank said. "The name 'Niabi,' means 'young deer spared by the hunter' in the Osage Indian language. We also will hear about the many changes to the zoo over the years. Approximately 250,000 visitors a year make Niabi Zoo one of the largest attractions in the Quad-Cities."

Feb. 28: Geneseo native and former Henry County Sheriff Gib Cady will present information about the Mounted Search and Rescue Team organized about 30 years ago as a simple club, to ride in county fairs and parades that evolved into using trained and certified horses to find missing persons or downed aircraft at any time.

March 7: Bill Menendez, retired principal at Southwest Grade School, Geneseo, with his service dog, Rock, discussing the importance of animals working with children of all ages. Mr. Menendez continues to take "Rock" to the Geneseo Public Library where children read to him.

March 14: Henry County Humane Society representatives and some animals in need of homes will share information about the group's recent land purchase to provide a new shelter and home for the animals, why there's a need for a shelter and for volunteers to help there; and why the the group needs donations to continue to care for the animals.

March 21: Geneseo Police Officer Jamison Weisser and his new K-9 dog, Bobby. Officer Weisser also will show a film about service-dog training and direct Bobby to showcase how he assists the police department.