Pleasanton Weekly

News - August 19, 2011

Blessing of animals will be blessing for shelter

'Our pets are part of our families,' says new pastor

by Dena Behnam

The Rev. Heather Leslie Hammer and Youth Minister Diana Bohn will preside over a Blessing of the Animals next weekend at Lynnewood United Methodist Church, which also will benefit the Valley Humane Society's "Save Our Shelter" campaign.

"The outdoor event will be held in the front area where there's grass and white pavement so it'll be cooler for the paws," Hammer said with a laugh.

Although this event traditionally falls on the Feast Day of St. Francis, Oct. 4, the church wanted to hold the event sooner in response to the Humane Society's present and on-going need for funding.

All are welcome to bring pets on leashes or in cages to the free outdoor worship celebration at 3 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 28, which will include music and prayer. Cookies and doggy biscuits will be offered after the short service, and people will be able to mingle with fellow pet owners. Parking is available behind the church, which is at 4444 Black Ave.

"Our pets are part of our families," said Hammer, who has an adopted shelter puppy of her own and friends who regularly foster kittens. "We nurture them with love as part of God's creation."

"And blessings are always nice to receive," she added.

Hammer just became the Lead Pastor of Lynnewood United Methodist Church on July 1. She is known in the Tri-Valley due to her years of teaching German, English and social sciences at Amador Valley and Livermore high schools.

"I'm just delighted to be appointed to Lynnewood Methodist Church," she said. "It's a vibrant community with lots going on, with lots of ages represented from children to adults, and it's just a great opportunity to be in ministry here."

Hammer brings a diverse background to church leadership. She first earned a secondary-school teaching career, a bachelor's degree in international studies from American University and a master's in reading instruction from the University of Maryland.

She said she answered a call to the ministry after her son suddenly died on Sept. 10, 2001.

"That caused me to look at my life in a new way," she recalled. "In the process of grief and healing, the church was tremendously supportive and helpful. We have two other children, and the members of the church supported us all."

"I felt that it was then in my private time of reading and prayer life the call from God came to go to seminary and to offer what I could to other families in grief as a spiritual leader," she added. "I wasn't sure at first what that would lead to, but I knew that I had a new direction in my life. It was joyful and no longer so sad."

Hammer then attended Pacific School of Religion, where she earned a Masters of Divinity with honors and distinction in preaching in 2006. Before returning to her local community, she served churches in Alamo and Rohnert Park.

Her new role as a pastor includes many duties.

"There's a tremendous creativity and variety involved in ministry at a local church and I thought my gifts would be well used in that context," she said. "So that's what I was prepared to do."

Not only does she lead worship, but Hammer's ministerial duties include pastoral care, small-group ministry and new-member relations.

"Every time I meet with individuals we have an opportunity for a deepening of our relationship and our faith," Hammer said. "I think I will influence people by providing that opportunity."

She is eager to serve this community and the world, committed to finding spiritual meaning in life, and making connections.

"This is a message we need to get out. We're not alone in this world," she said. "There are others who care about us, what we're trying to accomplish in life, and making life more meaningful."

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