The Heaven-Sent Tabby Cat

How a stray became an ambassador of good will.

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- Posted on Oct 21, 2013

close-up of an orange tabby cat.

Not everyone loves cats, but then again the orange tabby wasn’t your usual stray. He was healthy and well fed (okay, maybe even a bit plump). He’d been hanging around outside Emmanuel Episcopal Church for days, and I just knew he was lost. I brought him some food my own cats “decided” to donate and set it outside next to a bowl of water.

He made a beeline for it and tucked right in, eating as if he’d never seen food before. Poor thing, I thought.  What are we going to do with you? We had a big enough job reaching out to people in our community. I watched the classifieds, searching for a “lost cat” ad. But none appeared. It looked like this cat needed a home and the church looked like the right place for him.

For some reason he seemed like a “Sam” to me. At least that’s how I introduced him to our sexton, Van Womble. “I can’t keep a pet in my apartment,” he said. “But if Sam wants to hang around here, I’ll help you look after him.” Our deacon, Tally Bandy, was another cat lover and she willingly pitched in to help care for Sam. She couldn’t have cats at home either, so to her he was sent to fill that “cat place” in her heart.

But what would my boss, the rector, Hank Franklin, have to say about a church cat? Hank didn’t like cats and complained about the two he had at home. But Sam must have grown on him, because one day he announced, “That cat should have a proper name. From now on, he’s ‘Samuel Emmanuel.’” And so Samuel Emmanuel became a member of our church.

One Sunday, right in the middle of the service, Sam made a grand entrance, marching down the center aisle with his tail straight up in the air. Hank never missed a beat. “Good morning, Samuel,” he said and then went right on with his sermon. Sam became a regular, always able to find a willing lap in the congregation. He’d curl up there until the sermon was over then, newly edified, jump down and leave. In time, his “ministry” expanded.

Our students mobbed him whenever they saw him.  Our first-grade class even wrote and illustrated a book about Sam. But who loved him most of all? You guessed it, Hank.

People outside the church loved Sam too. I got to talking to a woman at the supermarket once and was puzzled when she asked how Sam was doing. She didn’t go to our church. “How on earth do you know Sam?” I asked. “Oh, I attend a meeting there and Sam always comes too.”

I realized she must attend one of the AA groups that meet at our church. I could picture her holding Sam on her lap, comforted while she stroked his fur, and talking about the difficult things in her life. Sam became our ambassador of goodwill. He greeted the families who strolled through our neighborhood and inspected the cars parked in front of the church to make sure they belonged. He attended some weddings and most funerals. Except one.

A sudden heart attack took Hank from us. We were devastated. In all of the commotion of the funeral, Sam was nowhere to be found. After everyone left, Van spotted Sam lying on the mound of dirt where Hank’s ashes had been buried. And there Sam stayed for two days. I like to think our ambassador of goodwill was saying good-bye to his friend.

Now, Sam greets all of us as we arrive for work. After he’s had his breakfast, he takes his place under a bench not far from Hank. When I catch sight of Sam lying there, I think of words from our prayer book: “Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep...and give your angels charge over those who sleep.” A stray? No, Samuel Emmanuel was definitely sent.

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This article is excerpted from Their Mysterious Ways Too.

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