Monday, October 02, 2006


To be honest, I’m still in two minds about “All Creatures Great and Small: a Pet Blessing service for St Francis-tide” which was our OpenHouse offering yesterday.
On one level, it was clearly hugely successful with dozens of dogs and their owners arriving to fill the church, - together with 2 gerbils, a cat, a rabbit, a tortoise and a whole jar of common or garden snails.
Many adults came from beyond the church family, bringing the pets who are central to their lives, - grateful for the opportunity to acknowledge and give thanks for the importance of those relationships. When I spoke to one of our Church Wardens afterwards, she commented that people who felt unable to come into church on their own behalf could hide behind their pets, engage with them as a mask for engaging with others or with God, and that it was undoubtedly a positive experience in bridge building. So, that's good, then.

Several of our usual families were there too (yesterday was OpenHouse’s 1st birthday, and it’s encouraging to realise that we do have some “usual families”, whom we wouldn't otherwise encounter, though the congregation is pretty fluid overall) and one (thanks, A) kindly emailed me with positive feedback, even though she’s not a pet owner herself :
"Someone told me that St M's was too high for them, but I can now say that it's not too high to welcome assorted 4 legged creatures...". Another positive.

Overall the atmosphere was fine, and the animals behaved beautifully (even though I did have to conduct much of the service with Mufti in my arms, as she was too overexcited to handle separation without screaming about it. Evil Dillon, in contrast, was a model of canine virtue, sitting alert but peaceful in the front pew…role reversal at last!).

All good, then?

Well, no, because at the back of my mind there always lurks the spectre of the Vicar of Dibley, - and an anxiety that what brought people in was less the opportunity to thank God for their pets than the prospect of free entertainment on a stormy Sunday afternoon. Because of the presence of the assorted pets, it was much harder to create the space to really pray...and though I was pleased with the service I'd devised, and the congregation participated with conviction, specially in the singing, it did feel quite a distance away from worship.

On balance, though, I’m going to rejoice rather than repent, because the actual rite of blessing each pet and owner by name was so very wonderful. Among many special encounters, I'll share just three…
  • With Daisy, an arthritic poodle in a pram whose owner said that because she was almost housebound this was a real highlight for her pet
  • With the owner of the snails, a small girl who had adopted them that very afternoon, because, she said “There are so many animals out there that don’t get loved and looked after, and I think God wants us to remember them”
  • With a family who came without their beloved dog, Chloe, because she was too ill to come…would I pray for her, please, as she was having chemotherapy?…so mum, small sons and I prayed together and it was good. Truly.
O God, you have made us and all living things to form your family on earth. You are even more wonderful than what you have made. We thank you for giving us these pets who bring us joy. As you take care of us, we also ask that we might take care of those who trust us to look after them. By doing this, we share in your own love for all creation. We ask this in the name of Jesus our Lord.

[Note: If you're considering a similar moment of madness, there are lots of good resources on the web...I found that prayer here and there's lots more to choose from]


Fiona said...

I did think that the service was missing that quite incredible "hush" during the quiet prayer, and my god-daughter's main comment was that she was hungry afterwards so she obviously missed the tea! THAT SAID, I was deeply moved by the whole thing and think that the Church Warden was right - this was an incredible opportunity to reach those who perhaps have no toddlers or brownies to hide behind, particularly I thought the maturer men who were there, was wonderful. Thunder on the other hand was not impressed and pooed on the Parish Secretary which is probably a mortal sin.

Anne said...

Some years ago Songs of Praise did a pets service, which was recorded at Wood Green Animal Sanctuary, and the school where I was working participated. It was a slightly batty experience but, as others have already commented, it is a good way to reach out to people who would otherwise not have anything to do with such ventures. And yes, the donkey did urinate enthusiastically while the Bishop was praying... I'm surprised never to have seen it on an "Alright on the Night"!