This coming Sunday afternoon we will celebrate the Blessing of the Animals on the front lawn of the church, an event that has become a treasured BMPC tradition. The spirituality of St. Francis of Assisi which incorporated a deep love for the creation gave rise to this tradition of Blessing the Animals on or near his feast day. It is also believed that in the 13th century St. Francis began the tradition of holding Christmas Eve pageants with costumed characters assuming the key roles, including the friendly beasts present in the stable where Jesus was born.
At this annual outdoor worship service, we bless the animals and thank God for all those who love and protect them. However, the truth is our creaturely companions are a blessing to us with their eager greetings and unconditional love.
At the church I served before coming to BMPC, in a meeting of the Memorial Garden Committee they looked at me like I had lost my mind when I asked if they had ever considered adding a line about pets. “We’ve never had a request to bury a pet,” one member said with laughter. “It’s just a matter of time,” I responded as I told how I had recently buried one of our church saints with the ashes of her three Great Danes tucked inside the casket beside her! (Yes, the beloved dogs had predeceased her.) With some humor in the conversation that ensued, we added a “no pets” rule to the revised guidelines while I sat in quiet certainty that there probably already were ashes of animals in the Memorial Garden, lovingly interred when no one was looking.
A seminary’s theological training gives no consideration to the pastoral care of people in relation to their pets, but long years in ministry has provided plenty of experience. Over the years I have gone to homes to bless newly-adopted puppies and pray over dying dogs, made a phone call when word got to the church that an old cat had to be put down, and laughed with seniors at the silly songs of the caged parakeets at the nursing home reception area.
Given the number of times a child has looked up at me with tearful eyes and asked me if her dog or gerbil or whatever would go to heaven, and I’ve responded, “Of course!” heaven has gotten to be a pretty crowded place.
What I have come to understand, through the pastoral care of pets and in my own life, is how beautifully connected we are to God’s good earth through the animals we love. There is a deep spiritual, if unspeakable, bond between us. My theology of heaven may be way off base, but given our tenuous stewardship of the earth these days, three cheers for the love of our pets as a sign of God’s promised redemption of the whole cosmos.
The BMPC pastors will bless your pets this Sunday afternoon fully and humbly aware that we human creatures are the ones who are most blessed by them.