The Feast of St. Francis of Assisi to be celebrated with pet blessing services at many venues, including Swift Run
flickr photo by dawnzy58
Each year in October, pets and humans converge in churches everywhere in alignment with the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi.
Pet blessing services are a way for humans to celebrate the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, embodying his love of animals and all mankind. St. Francis, patron saint of animals and the environment, was born in 1181 or 1182 and founded the Franciscan order.
St. Francis also wrote The Canticle of the Creatures (Canticle of the Sun) — an affirmation of how he lived, often referring to animals as brothers and sisters to mankind.
Did you think these special blessing services are a new idea? Not so! For centuries, farm animals were blessed at rural churches — they were an integral part of everyday life back then, and great reverence was given to them.
The role of animals has certainly changed in our culture, and with the number of people sharing life with pets at an all-time high, a shift in awareness of the importance that pets hold in our lives seems to be coming full circle. Pastor Michael Ryan of King of Kings Lutheran Church in Ann Arbor notes that attendance at pet blessing services held around the country, it's obvious that that's the case.
"It's clear that pets are very important in people's lives. The very idea that they go out of their way to bring their pet along to participate in a pet blessing service is proof."
And Pastor Ryan, who has been with King of Kings for eight years, has seen his share of these events. He has led the congregation in seven of them.
Fond memories have sprung from those celebrations, including a dog who would howl as the congregation sang, and the year when two small children — aged 4 or 5 — brought in a cocoon in an enclosure.
This year's service will be held on Oct. 6, and it should prove to be a fun, profound event. Aside from a service being held inside the church in the afternoon, Pastor Ryan will be at Swift Run dog park from 9 a.m.-noon to hold a pet blessing service. After, he'll be available outside the church for those people and pets walking by.
"It's something that's a little different, and a great way to meet people where they're at," says the pastor, who is originally from New York.
Having shared life with several pets of his own prior to coming to Michigan, he understands the connection that people and pets have come to share.
As well as bringing their pets along, there have been those who bring a photo of a pet who is ill, asking for a blessing for the pet.
Blessing services involving animals to celebrate the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi really vary when it comes to the size of the gathering. Some can be small and quaint to grand, like one that takes place at St. John the Divine in New York City, as Pastor Ryan pointed out. (It is claimed to be the largest cathedral in the world, and is still under construction.)
"It's quite something to see — all kinds of animals are present, even elephants and camels. It's a ticket-only event, and it's a full house, every year."
One thing is for certain: If you share life with a pet and want to celebrate the Feast of St. Francis, there are plenty of opportunities.
In the spirit of the season, several area houses of worship will be holding pet blessing services:
Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012 at 4:30 p.m.
King of Kings Lutheran Church
Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012 at 2 p.m.
St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church
2250 East Stadium Blvd., Ann Arbor. Call 734-769-2550 for more information. Blessing of the Animals will be held on the plaza in front of the church. All are welcome.
Holy Faith ChurchThe congregation will hold a service at 10 a.m. (weather permitting) to bless the animals, and then things will move inside for the rest of the service. Humane Society of Huron Valley will benefit from the day's offerings, and the organization will have dogs in tow to be blessed and for folks to meet.
St. Luke's Episcopal Church
1120 North Huron, Ypsilanti. Call 734-483-4253 for more information. Two services will take place: 10 a.m. Children's services in which stuffed/toy animals and/or pictures of their favorite animal will be blessed. At 1 p.m., Blessing of the Pets will be held in the Garth (located between the Chapel and the Hall) for all of the living creatures.
In most cases, houses of worship note that all pets are welcome. All dogs should be on a leash, and all other animals should be in a carrier cage or an aquarium.
Also, bear in mind that this may be a stressful situation for your companion animal. If you feel your pet might be aggressive toward others, you can bring a photo of your pet instead.
If you've had a beloved pet that has died, you are invited to bring a photo of your pet, for remembrance. Teddy bears and other stuffed animals to act as a stand-in are also welcome.
Lorrie Shaw is leads the pets section for AnnArbor.com. Catch her daily dog walking and pet sitting adventures or email her directly.