“May we find unity in the variety of life — in particular, we thank you for creating all the animals that walk on the face of the earth. They are a reminder to us of the sanctity of the creation and the reality that animals have no denomination. May we learn from their example and may all the animals of the planet be a reminder to us that peaceful coexistence can be a reality.” – Interfaith Blessing of the Animals in Long Beach, California
When the temperatures cool and the leaves begin to change, there are all sorts of traditions familiar at the arrival of autumn. College towns rally for their football teams. Butterflies make their way to warmer climates. Friends gather to gossip about who’s wearing what and why to the Emmys. And throughout the nation, harvest festivals abound. There is one little known fall tradition, however, that has been around for centuries: Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi, better known as the Blessing of the Animals. And this Saturday, right here in Birmingham at Unity Church in Highland Park, you can participate with your pet.
Maybe you’re thinking, who’s this Assisi fella and why would I want to take my little troublemaker to be blessed anyhow? And anyway, do animals even have souls to bless? (That’s another story for another time.) St. Francis of Assisi was born in the 12th century, and his deep love of God overflowed so much into his love for all creatures that he became the patron saint of animals and the environment. But his feast day didn’t start until the 13th Century. My guess is there are those of you who feel your pet is a mixed blessing (to say the least). You know who you are, the one’s who are often wandering the neighborhood in search of a certain lost “Mittens” or “Fido” with a scowl on your face. Or maybe you’re the one who was just crying over the loss of your third pair of brand new designer shoes. Maybe you’re having a devil of a time with your canine or feline disciplinary problems so that the word “blessing” seems far away in some distant, alien land. For you, the word “exorcism” comes to mind a little bit easier. Yeah, we’ve all been there. But I’m here to tell you that for most of us pet owners, it’s their world and we’re just living in it.
Jane Longshore, a Birmingham resident, says, “I took my dog Mack, many years ago, to one service the Unitarian church did at Rushton Park. It was very sweet — stood in line with him and we got up to the clergy and she blessed him and then I got a certificate with his name on it. It says, “Honoring the Sacred in Our Animal Friends. Mack, a creature of God, was joyfully blessed in the presence of God’s people in celebration of Thanksgiving for our animal friends. September 24, 2000.”
Another Birmingham resident, Ben South, has a more comical version: “I took a favorite of my dogs and had him blessed when Francis Walter was still the priest back before the earth cooled. Francis did great but my randy canine was going to need more than an annual blessing to get him into hound heaven.”
One of the largest events in the United States is held at the The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York, New York. The oldest known blessing of animals may be in Los Angeles on Olvera Street, where animals have been blessed since 1930.
You can take your pooch, your kitten or any ol’ creature to Rushton Park to get blessed this Saturday, Oct. 1, from 1-4 p.m. Rev. Ron Muir will lead the Animal Blessing Ceremony and Healing Prayer Circle. Everyone two-footed and four-footed are welcome. There will be live music and other activities as well.
Tips on prepping for the event:
If your pet isn’t friendly with a variety of animals (cats, dogs, pigs, lizards, birds, etc.), consider bringing him or her in a carrier or bringing a photograph of your pet instead.
Bring dogs on leashes.
Bring poop bags to clean up after your pet if nature calls before, during or after the blessing.
Further reading: Guardians of Being by Eckhart Tolle (author) and Patrick McDonnell (illustrator).
Unity of Birmingham hosts the annual “Blessing of the Animals” on Saturday, Oct. 1, from 1-4 p.m. in Rushton Park at Highland Avenue and 28th Street South.
Jessica Bush is the founder of Dogingham, a dog blog with a local focus. Visit www.dogingham.com or send your feedback to email@example.com.