Celebrating the Blessing of the Animals

A service for all creatures in honor of St. Francis.

- Posted on Oct 8, 2019

A group photo of three different breeds of dogs and a cat together.

The feast of St. Francis of Assisi is often celebrated with the Blessing of Animals, a nod to the saint's honoring of all creation, his celebration of brother sun, sister moon, his ability to assuage ravenous wolves, to hold the attention of birds of the air with captivating sermons. In my ministry, it's been my privilege to participate in a number of these services, but one in particular stands out.

In Manhattan, we offered the Blessing of Animals at our evening service. In the darkness, we gathered all kinds of creatures, which was fun. I do recall one stretch limo that pulled up in front of the church. Three small fluffy white dogs, ribbons on their heads emerged, tethered to a butler. They looked like they'd never been outside of their penthouse. They were lovingly carried into the sanctuary and then whisked back to their haven once blessed, though I imagine in many ways their little lives were already pretty blessed.

That same night, after a brief homily marked by barks, the clergy stood at the front of the church to offer blessings. Five priests. No waiting. Congregants lined up the center aisle with their animal companions, mostly dogs, cats, a few caged birds and small adorable rodents. But there was one memorable participant.

At first, in the darkness, it was hard to recognize. A woman approached the clergy, carrying a four-foot iguana. It was transported in a Snuggly, strapped to her chest. She approached the rector. He referred her to me. He told her that I was the one who covered reptiles. I was intrigued and glad to offer a blessing. There's a first time for everything. After the service, I did find this woman to ask, "How did you get here?" She responded without a blink. "On the subway."

I could imagine a church that would say, "Dogs and cats and cute rodents, only. No iguanas." I remain grateful for that New York church which practiced radical welcome and an expansive view of blessings. 

Across the centuries, St. Francis teaches us many things. He teaches us about serving the poor. He teaches us about prayer. He teaches us about faith in action. He teaches us about care for creation. He teaches us that we can do all these things with irrepressible joy. That's quite an enduring legacy. And included in his legacy of lessons: the blessing of all of life. 

Rev. Jay Sidebotham is currently the Director of RenewalWorks and serves as associate rector at St. James’ Parish in Wilmington, North Carolina. He's served in several sites across the country, including St. Bart’s in New York City. Sidebotham is well known for his cartoons about church life and his animation work on the television series Schoolhouse Rock!

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