A service that blesses God’s critters builds community while caring for Creation
May 17, 2023
With so much love and joy — and even grief — that pets bring to people, more Presbyterian churches are beginning to offer a Blessing of the Animals service. Traditionally held in early fall to coincide with the Oct. 4 feast day of St. Francis, 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, the former 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.”
Blank, whose congregation is exploring becoming a PC(USA) Earth Care Congregation, led its first Blessing of the Animals last October. Using the liturgy in the BCW, Blank not only wanted to give thanks for the pets in people’s lives, but she also wanted those attending to connect with nature. The service was held outdoors on a Sunday evening underneath Pleasant View Presbyterian’s pavilion. The service, Blank says, was a natural fit for the church’s context.
“Our congregation includes farmers, folks who worked at vet clinics and feed supply stores, as well as many folks who dearly love their house pets,” Blank said. The church, too, was used to working with animals as it holds a live Nativity each Advent. Admittedly, the stars of the Nativity are not Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus, but rather Fenn the goat and Diego the donkey, Blank said, laughing.
Still, Pleasant View Presbyterian made sure to set a few ground rules for its Blessing of the Animals.
“To keep the peace between all creatures great and small, we asked that pets remained on leashes or in carriers,” Blank said. “We wondered if fur would fly, but all participants behaved — human and animal alike.”
Leading up to the service, Pleasant View Presbyterian also held a collection for donations to a local animal shelter.
Blank said that the Blessing of the Animals was also an opportunity to connect with church members who rarely attend on Sunday morning.
“This service honored an important part of their life,” Blank said.
Last October, the Rev. Kelly Jean Norris of Kerr Presbyterian Church in Verona, Pennsylvania, incorporated the Blessing of the Animals liturgy into the traditional Sunday morning worship slot, but she also moved the service outdoors.
“The congregation was very enthusiastic,” Norris said. Not only were animals invited, but church members were asked to bring a photo of either their deceased pets or pets who do not travel well.
“It was a beautiful way to address the grief of losing a loved animal, and to include those pets with special prayers and blessings who could not be there physically,” she said.
David Bennett for Presbyterians Today, Special to Presbyterian News Service
Today’s Focus: Blessing the animals service
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Cathy Chang and Juan Carrasco Lopez Mission co-workers, Philippines, World Mission, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Betsie Chilton, Administrator, Researcher & Analyst, Presbyterian Foundation
Let us pray
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