Catholics maybe more known for celebrating St. Francis, but very few celebrate the saint's day as Episcopalians do. Many Episcopalians possess a strong love for animals, going all out on the Feast of Saint Francis, and this year was no exception. Some congregations did traditional Pet Blessing Services, while others got down, got out into nature, and celebrated by taking it to the zoo, to borrow a phrase from a 70's movie song, while others morn with those who lost beloved pets this year.
Various Episcopal churches took the Blessing of the Pets public this year and performed more than just an outdoor church service. One church celebrated with a Noah’s Park pet carnival theme, another accepted “paper prayers”, and another decided to bless more than just pets this year.
The emerging community of St. Francis the Wanderer, in Seattle, Washington, decided to bless zoo animals also this year.
On October 4, Rev. Sally Carlson and her congregation took it to the zoo.
“This is the first year we’ve done this,” said Carlson during a recent telephone interview, “we’re an emerging mission and we’re just getting up and running. This will actually be our first liturgy together.”
They started at the Woodland Park Zoo’s south gate and went around the zoo for two hours, making several stops to bless all the animals.
“We’re going to bless everything, the birds, the bugs, the nonvertebrates, everything. We’re so excited we can’t stand ourselves,” Carlson said. “It was so kind of the zoo to understand what we wanted to do in terms of honoring creation.”
The inspiration for celebrating the Feast of St. Francis by blessing all the animals came from the time Carlson was involved with the aftermath of Katrina and someone on a street corner said, “Let’s pray.”
Consequently, St. Francis the Wanderer is strictly an outdoor service for those who do wish to attend church or worship inside a building, but still want ritual. According to Carlson, people can find their group gathering at beaches, on street corners, in parking lots, and for whatever reason. They intend to minister to those who do not wish to attend church, but are hungry for God.
Episcopalians love their pets and some even believe that their pets help them do things, such getting them out of a wheelchair and walking again.
Because of this love, another church started Epis-ca-paws Ministry, which also includes memorial services for departed pets on the Feast of St. Francis, as well as pet blessings for the living.
Episcopal News Service reports:
For Carole Pozek, a member of St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Berea, Ohio, a pet memorial service offered the first time this year along with pet blessings was nothing short of miraculous.
By her own count Pozek, 58, a member of St. Thomas for seven years, has three dogs, two menpens, Sophie and Trace, and Izzy, a Chihuahua, plus two rescue cats, Georgie, a tabby, and Buddy Boy, “who is just seven months old, black and light and looks like a little soccer ball.
“And,” she pauses, “I had a horse for 10 years.”
She believes that Pablo, her Appaloosa, helped improve her multiple sclerosis. “He got me out of the wheelchair,” she said during a recent telephone interview. “He was special to me in a lot of different ways. He was more like a puppy, he walked right beside me and followed me wherever I went.”
But Pablo died suddenly Sept. 16. “I got a phone call at 9:20 a.m. on Sunday and they told me that during the night my horse died. Nobody knew the cause. I couldn’t be there so it was really hard.”
And Pozek had back surgery Sept. 16, but went to church that same day “even though I wasn’t supposed to be up and out. On the pews were these notices about the pet blessings and that they were also doing memorials for pets. They had never done that before. It was God-given to me.”
The ministry also helps to rescue mistreated animals and help struggling pet caregivers with pet food and other items needed for caring for their beloved pets, using pet food drop-off sites, but they especially try to comfort those who recently lost a beloved pet.
ENS continues with Pozek grieving for her late horse:
“We thought that, as part of the service, we could also have a moment for pets who have died.”
For Pozek, the Sept. 30 service meant everything.
“It was horrible when Pablo died,” she said. “They didn’t call me because I recently had back surgery and they didn’t want me to come down there and hurt myself, and they knew I would come.
“There’s only one place, about an hour west of us, where you can take horses to be cremated. You can’t be there. You don’t get to say goodbye; you don’t really get closure. I never got to hold Pablo or say goodbye. I’m sure he needed me and I wasn’t there. I have guilt about that.”
Her pets, she said, make her smile. She is facing the possibility of yet another surgery so “with everything that’s been going on, I don’t always have a lot to smile about except with my animals.
“I don’t think that anybody should live without an animal,” she added. “I truly believe God puts the right pet into your life, to give you what you need.
“I’m on disability, I can’t afford all these animals anymore,” she hesitated, before adding: “but I find a way, because they I know they will keep me going. And I know that they are God’s gift to me. When I look at people I try to see Christ in them, and I do the same thing with my animals.”