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COLUMN: Blessing the Animals

Tuesday, Oct. 4, is Saint Francis Feast Day. Saint Francis was a 12th Century monk who is considered the Patron Saint of the Animals and all Creation.

Years ago, when we visited Assisi and the Basicilia of Saint Francis, frescoes painted in the early centuries depicted Francis with the animals he so loved. In that trip we also visited La Verna. If you google, the Verna is a mountain in Tuscany where Francis would retreat to remember who he was and who he was called to be.

If you visit La Verna, there are steps down to a crevice in the mountains where Saint Francis would lie down and look at the sky to remember how small he was in the universe.

There was a young novice Franciscan there who gave us the tour. At the end of the tour, we were at the place where Francis died. He asked that we pray together. Then I prayed for our little group. I have stayed in contact with this young monk, who is now the head priest of the Monastery of La Verna.

The Blessing of the Animals is something we began at Saint Francis United Methodist Church while I was there. On the Sunday closest to Oct. 4, we would invite people to bring their pets for prayer and blessing. Honestly, through the years it has been a most precious part of my ministry. We prayed for dogs and cats, cockatiels and frogs. We always asked that the pets be brought on leashes or in cages. Some pets came for years. Some people came for blessing after their pets had died. It was a sacred and holy gathering.

There was a time that I taped a sign on my office door that read: “Animal Blessing Here.” Chelsea’s moms took me up on that. They brought her in the back of their pickup truck to the church. I remember going out to the truck with them to pray blessing for Chelsea. Then we drove to their vet’s office to offer her to God. God received her with love.

I have never told the people of Saint Francis that some of Chelsea’s ashes are buried in the garden there. That’s our little secret.

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We have two dogs. One is congenial. Likes people more than dogs. The other, well he only actually likes me. They are interesting in a gathering like a Blessing of the Animals. Helen is reserved. Lucky needs his blessing at home. It’s embarrassing when the pastor’s dog is the biggest barker and snapper in the whole dog congregation.

One year, there was a Weimaraner brought to the gathering in her family’s truck. She was so very sick. Her owner said this would likely be her last rites. I do not know a lot about last rites, but I do know about prayer for blessing and healing. So we prayed. The next year, the couple came with another Weimaraner in the truck. When they came up for blessing, the owners said that this was the same dog we prayed for last year. Healing is God’s good work in creation.

This Sunday, after Hurricane Ian had devastated Florida and killed five people in North Carolina, the Blessing of the Animals at Saint Mark’s UMC was a little in doubt. Rain was in the forecast. Still, we gathered. Sent out a prayer to do at home. Offered drive-by blessing. And a hearty few of us gathered in the garden mist to read Psalm 148, sing one verse of “This Is My Father’s World,” and pray around a little circle on the Labyrinth.

We blessed Stella, Molly, Linda, May, Daphne, Helen, Opie, Murphy and Mia. Max, the cat, came late. Bingley was blessed in the car. Jasper got a blessing through email. And Kit, precious Kit, who is near the end of her life, was calm in her mama’s arms as we blessed her.

In a time where there is so much ugliness and hate among us, a Blessing of the Animals is a reminder of what goodness there is in creation. What blessing there is when we gather to give thanks. What hope there is to be, at last, who we are created to be.

Lib Campbell is a retired Methodist pastor, retreat leader and hosts the website: avirtualchurch.com. She welcomes comments at libcam05@gmail.com.

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