As October approaches, we see the telltale signs of the change of the seasons: pumpkin spice lattes at Starbucks, pop-up costume stores re-opening, and signs start appearing in various places announcing services for the Blessing of Animals.
While many of us have pets that we love dearly and pray for, especially when they are sick, why do churches offer specific services for the purpose of blessing animals?
No one seems to know when the first services happened in a church setting. However, the date of these services gives us a start. Most churches hold their Blessing of the Animals on the Saturday or Sunday closest to October 4. To answer why that date is significant, it is helpful to turn to a liturgical calendar (such as the one in the front of your prayer book). Doing so shows us that October 4 is the feast day to celebrate the blessed St. Francis of Assisi.
St. Francis had a passion for preaching the Gospel and was committed to living a life of poverty and serving the poor. He founded the Franciscan Order, enabling those who shared his vision to continue his work far beyond what he himself could do.
Francis was especially fond of God’s creation. You have undoubtedly seen many a statue of St. Francis, probably in a garden and possibly with a bird in his hand. Indeed, it is a story of St. Francis and some birds that leads us to our modern ceremony.
Francis was contemplating Mark 16:15, which instructs the disciples to “preach the Gospel to all creation.” He began to believe that such a command, and the Gospel itself, was not for humanity alone. He understood that all creation groans in anticipation of the new creation (Romans 8, Revelation 21). As such, he found himself preaching one day to some birds he met on his path, telling them of the reasons we should be grateful for God, how God loves us without measure, and how Christ embodies this love in the redemption he offers.
Churches began to follow Francis’s lead, taking seriously God’s love for all of creation and eventually organizing services whereby they bless the pets of parishioners on or around St. Francis Day.
St. John’s Episcopal Church’s Blessing of the Animals will be held this year on Saturday, October 5.Over the years we have blessed all manner of animals at this event: dogs, cats, birds, fish, goats, horses, bearded dragons, turtles, snakes, guinea pigs, hamsters, and mice. There’s a place here for all creatures of our God and King.
We meet at the school’s beautiful outdoor class room just off Harter Road on our front campus. Many of our neighbors join us on this day, and following the short service we have refreshments for people and pets alike.