Normally when we head out to church in our Sunday best, we more or less know what to expect. The liturgy which we are comfortable with, and the breaking of bread and serving of wine, the prayers, as well as listening to God’s Word being preached from the pulpit. From time to time there would be baptisms and confirmations as well as receiving into church membership, but to have a special session where animals are blessed? This is certainly out of the ordinary. Not so for the Christ Episcopal Church who recently had more than just regular two-legged members sitting in its pews on a Sunday morning. There were some four-legged parishioners to boot. The reason behind the appearance of animals in church? Each first weekend in October would be the annual Blessing of the Animals held in the Christ Episcopal Church for the past three decades.
In between prayers and hymns last Sunday, the congregation would surely be treated to several barks and meows from amongst the congregation, especially for dogs and cats that are not too comfortable with one another’s presence. One thing is for sure, it is not a common sight for many church goers, and some might even take the stand that blessing the animals is heretical in nature.
Mostly Catholic and Episcopal churches around the world would celebrate the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi on October 4 each year. This particular feast would commemorate the life of St. Francis, who happens to be the patron saint of animals and the environment. St. Francis was born in the 12th century and was elevated to sainthood just a couple of years after his death.
2016 would be the second year in a row in which the Rev. Ben Alford has directed the blessing at Christ Episcopal. This is nothing new to the Rev. Ben Alford though, as it is his 30th overall year performing such a blessing. So far, the Rev. Ben Alford claimed that in the past three decades of carrying out this blessing of the animals, he has more or less seen just about everything. Dogs and cats are the most common, but lizards, horses and peacocks are some of the other “visitors” to the church on such a day.
There would also be some situations where certain animals are unable to make their way to the service, and Rev. Alford decided to make full use of available technology. He decided that it is all right to be able to bless them via smartphone, now how about that? This resulted in some of the parishioners taking the easier way out by bringing images of their beloved pets stored on the smartphone in order to receive such a blessing.
Some of the participating pastors did explain what the Blessing of the Animals mean to them. For instance, Superior Hospital Reverend Sara Lund shared, "As we bless our pets, we acknowledge that they're part of our worship, and that in their own way, they worship God in their forms.” Our Savior's Lutheran Church Pastor Sarah Kerkes had this to say, "God's blessing is not just for people, but also for things we love in this world, like our pets."
What about you -- what do you think?