Thursday, November 24, 2022

20C Blessing the Fox Hunt on Thanksgiving

I am pretty certain that I live in a place out of time.  Until recently at our church in Northern Maryland, Thanksgiving morning began with communion followed by a Blessing of the Hunt. As geese congregate to fly overhead in November, fox hunting officially season begins in these parts. Every year on Thanksgiving Morning, excited riders, onlookers, horses, & hounds gather at Saint James Episcopal church in Monkton Maryland. For many families, it has become a tradition that starts their Thanksgiving holiday. Riders appear & come dressed in formal hunters attire, atop their beautiful horses. Formal hunters attire is the classic & signature red hunting jackets called "Pinks," white riding pants, black leather riding boots, & hunt caps. 

The riders gather early in the morning, & before the hounds are released to follow the fox scent, they all receive a blessing from the local Episcopal Priest while the scores of onlookers watch from the sidelines. The tradition & its blessing go way back to very early medieval times when hunters believed that Saint Hubert of Liege, the patron saint of hunters, would protect them & their hounds & keep them safe during the hunt.
St James Episcopal Church, Monkton, Maryland. 2014

At a Blessing I attended a few years ago, the rector began, "In less than an hour we will hear hoof beats, and the crying of hounds. As the final echoes of the Lord's Prayer and an Anglican blessing fade from this hilltop into the silence of the trees, the horse and riders will pick up speed, seek a scent, and pass quickly out of our sight."
Informal fox hunts with private packs of dogs were popular in Maryland throughout colonial times, when rural neighbors applauded fox hunting as a husbandry necessity -foxes were destroying livestock. Early Marylanders did not see fox hunting as a blood-sport of the privileged. After the Revolution, the first few formal foxhunting clubs were organized near the towns of Baltimore, Washington, & Annapolis. Contemporary newspaper accounts show that the Baltimore Fox Hunting Club was active near the Chesapeake Bay as early as 1793.
The rector continued, "Into the beauty of God's creation they will move. We will hear them even when we cease to see the red of their jackets or the dark flanks of the very last horse. Even when they are gone from our hearing, we will remember the sound of our voices raised in song and prayer within these walls. And those who go a hunting and those that can't tell a stirrup from a saddle will leave this church today connected through a common cup, one bread broken for us all, and blessings from ancient times that are carried, still, by stories like voices on the wind."
Our local Elkridge Fox Hunting Club was incorporated on March 6, 1878, and is believed to be a descendant of the 18th-century Baltimore Fox Hunting Club. As downtown Baltimore grew, it combined with the more rural Harford Hunt club. Now the Elkridge-Harford Hunt roams over about 120 square miles of rolling farmland, with wooded areas & pastures. It has over 60 hounds in its kennels. Neighborhood obstacles are post-and-rail fences, fallen trees, cold streams,  & board fences.
The rector concluded, "In less than an hour we will hear hoof beats, and the crying of hounds. God's blessing will roll across the landscape, seeking those who would enter a kingdom raised by more than human hands. All we have to do to enter is to be willing to love, willing to risk, willing to ride out and meet God where He dwells. Let us all prepare our hearts for the blessing of the hunt, the search for God. For everyone that draws breath is on this life-long journey. Ride well, and may the peace of God be with you."