November 22, 2012
Grace Episcopal Church held its 84th Blessing of the Hounds Thursday morning. It's been a Thanksgiving tradition in Keswick since 1929.
Reverend Randy Haycock began the ceremony at 10 a.m. About a thousand people gathered outside the church, where horses, huntsmen and hounds were blessed before saddling up for a hunt.
Orange County resident Haley Wilbanks has participated in the ceremony in the past. This year, she was on the sidelines to watch her younger sister get blessed alongside other members of the Keswick Hunt Club.
"It's always been a really good Thanksgiving tradition for my family," said Wilbanks. "It's a really cool way to start off our Thanksgivings."
Haycock, who officiated the ceremony, said several people told him it wouldn't be Thanksgiving without the Blessing of the Hounds.
"It does provide a kind of window of opportunity to really practice gratitude in a deep and lasting day," said Haycock. "That really is what keeps people coming back."
Riders collected offerings in their helmets before the blessing. The money will go to the Charlottesville Free Clinic and the Wildlife Center of Virginia.
The church's first Blessing of the Hounds service took place in 1926 as a way to reach out to sports people in the community who did not regularly attend church. It has been held every Thanksgiving since then.