With the love and joy — and even grief — that pets bring to people, more Presbyterian churches are beginning to take a page from their Catholic and Episcopal brothers and sisters by offering a Blessing of the Animals service. Traditionally held in early fall to coincide with the Oct. 4 feast day of St. Francis, (though these can be held any time) these services invite members of the congregation to bring their pets to the church to be blessed.
While the service has been a beloved tradition for most Anglican congregations, Presbyterians have tended to “shy away from services of blessings,” says the Rev. Laura Blank of Pleasant View Presbyterian Church in Smock, Pennsylvania.
That is changing.
“If we declare along with the psalmist that ‘the Earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it,’ we understand that God has already blessed and continues to bless Creation. Having a service like the Blessing of the Animals invites us to recognize that God is the one who blesses,” Blank said, adding that such a service also helps people “take seriously our role as stewards of Creation.”
Playing a more serious — and active — role in the care of Creation is one of the reasons that a service for Blessing of the Animals was included in the 2018 revision of the “Book of Common Worship” (BCW), says the Rev. Dr. David Gambrell.
Gambrell, the associate for worship in the PC(USA) Office of Theology & Worship and co-editor of the BCW, explained that the animal blessing was part of the new “Creation and Ecology” section, reflecting the denomination’s “expanded ecological awareness.”
“There’s a desire to be good stewards of God’s Creation and good neighbors to the other creatures that share our earthly home,” said Gambrell.
The Rev. Dr. Kimberly Bracken Long, co-editor of the BCW, agrees with Gambrell, adding that such a service “reflects one facet of our giving thanks for, and being good stewards of, all the gifts of Creation.”
Gambrell said he imagined the Blessing of the Animals service to be used with “household pets, farm animals — or even as a way of seeking God’s blessing for wild creatures and endangered species.”
A blessing for animals
Almighty and everlasting God,
Creator of all things and giver of all life,
let your blessing be upon all these animals.
May our relationship with them mirror your love,
and our care for them be an example of your bountiful mercy.
Grant the animals health and peace.
Strengthen us to love and care for them
as we strive to imitate the love of Jesus Christ
our Lord and your servant Francis. Amen.
—From the “Book of Common Worship” (2018), A Service for the Blessing of the Animals
Text for this post comes from David Bennett’s Presbyterian’s Today article, Blessing the Animals, which can be read in its entirety here.