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Church Cats 7
Samuel Emmanuel was resident cat at the Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Southern Pines, a small community of some 10,000 people in Moore County, North Carolina. He had apparently decided that he preferred it to living wherever he had been before, where perhaps he hadn't been very well treated. He was found in the church garden one morning in around 2000, rather hungry but friendly, by Sue Kjellsen, then parish administrator. She persuaded the rector at the time, Hank Franklin, that the church should take him in; Hank insisted that appropriate enquiries should be made to see whether anyone claimed the cat, but no one did so he stayed. It was Hank who chose his name, and as time went on the two became very attached to each other.
Not everyone welcomed the cat at first, but it wasn't long before Sam won them over and became a much loved member of the parish family. He had the run of the place, coming and going as he pleased via a cat door in the office, and it became a familiar sight to see him strolling in dignified fashion, tail erect, up the aisle during a service. He would find an accommodating lap and jump up to snooze through the Eucharist. He also liked the bishop's chair! He made himself equally at home in official meetings, when he would jump onto the big library table, make a point of greeting everyone and then settle on someone's lap. And he was a popular visitor when he dropped in at the nearby Episcopal Day School, allowing the children to pet him.
It was during Samuel Emmanuel's tenure that his friend and champion, Rector Hank Franklin, had a heart attack and died in 2005 at the age of 52, completely unexpectedly, while out cross-country ski-ing. His ashes were buried in the church's Memorial Garden and Sam seemed to take it upon himself to stay around and keep watch over them. One day a dog came running up while he was there, but the cat would have none of it and chased the dog off in no uncertain manner. On another occasion a church member found him curled up outside in the open on a bitterly cold winter's night, apparently standing guard over Hank. When approached and stroked he meowed in acknowledgement, but declined to move.
In the manner of cats, Samuel would come when called if he chose to! and sometimes liked a game of fetch-and-carry. But one of his greatest attributes was in somehow communicating with the parishioners; as one of them put it, 'He was more than a cat, somehow.' He seemed to have an almost supernatural gift for seeking out the people who most needed comforting the old, the sick, the troubled and the bereft. It was the ability to relate to people that made even non-cat-lovers take to him; he disarmed them.
As happens to so many cats these days, Samuel's life was apparently ended by a road traffic accident. It happened not long after the peak of his career, when by crossing the road at the appropriate time and place, he had helped to guide the bishop to the church after the latter had been driving around in the dark for a while trying to find it. 'I knew then I was in the right place,' said Bishop Michael Curry. A week later, just before Christmas 2006, Samuel Emmanuel was dead, although there was not a mark on his body.
He was cremated, and after the Christmas Eve morning service most of the church's congregation gathered in the Memorial Garden for a short service of readings and prayers in Samuel's honour. His ashes were buried next to those of his companion, Rector Hank Franklin.
We're very grateful to Sue Kjellsen for her assistance with this account and for supplying several of the photographs.
We received the following tribute to Sam from a former deacon at the church, Talmage Bandy, and would like to share it:
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Our featured feline at the head of the page is Socks, pictured in 2003 surveying his 'estate' in the early morning sunshine. Affectionately known as Soxy, he blossomed from a thin and hungry stray into a substantial and handsome cat who loved life and company, and his gentle ways endeared him to many friends. He is now no longer with us, but you can read more from his human companion here.
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