The Episcopal Church has long believed that animals are gifts from God, and that people are responsible for being good stewards of the earth and all its inhabitants. In keeping with such beliefs, many Episcopal churches including St. Francis of Assisi in Chapin host an annual Blessing of the Animals service, when people have the rare opportunity to bring their pets to church to receive special blessings. This event has special meaning for this parish named for St. Francis. We are particularly blessed with a beautiful outdoor chapel in a woodland setting.
In the 76th General Convention, the Episcopal Church reaffirmed that animals are part of creation and that humans must be responsible stewards over them. The church has gone so far as to speak out against puppy mills, factory farms and any other animal husbandry methods that cause suffering to animals. These positions are not new. Even in 1840, The Rev. Thomas Fuller regretted that humans had exterminated some species and enslaved the rest, writing, “We have treated our distant cousins in fur and feathers so badly that beyond doubt, if they were able to formulate a religion, they would depict the devil in human form.”
Episcopalians celebrate the Blessing of the Animals on a Sunday close to the Feast of St. Francis, which falls on Oct. 4. In 2020, this feast is actually on the 4th! St. Francis of Assisi was well known for his love of animals. Stories tell of him preaching to flocks of birds, dissuading mosquitoes from biting him and even convincing a wolf to stop stalking humans and livestock in Gubbio, Italy, where he once lived. At the Blessing of the Animals, people remember and emulate Francis’ example of love for animals and appreciation of God’s creations. This celebration is open to Episcopalians and people from other faith traditions. All are welcome!
Pets brought to church on the feast day receive individual blessings. Dogs and cats account for the biggest turnout, but other creatures sometimes make appearances. For the safety of all, pets must be contained or restrained by a sturdy carrier, leash or halter. Following the individual blessing, the congregation prays together, thanking God for their pets and asking for God’s help in caring for them.
(The above information can be found at Blessings of Animals at Episcopal Churches by Teresa Bergen.)