How can a Blessing of the Animals reach new people in your community? Jessica Anschutz shares tips to engage pet owners and community partners as you celebrate all creatures great and small.
Many congregations celebrate a blessing of the animals on or around October 4, the Feast of Saint Francis, while other congregations have a Blessing of the Animals sometime around Earth Day (April 22) or in December in thanksgiving for all the creatures that witnessed Jesus’ birth in the manger. Different congregations and communities can select times that fit their community and liturgical calendar.
A blessing of the animals is not only an opportunity to celebrate all the pets whose caretakers are a part of the congregation but also a wonderful opportunity to reach out to those in the community. For congregations that have had animal blessings for years, consider how you can expand your service to reach more people in the community. For congregations that are considering an animal blessing, remember to start small and offer some education about why you are inviting people to bring their pets to church. If you are planning a blessing of the animals to celebrate the chaos of barking dogs, meowing cats, squawking birds, and more, consider how to reach new people in your community.
Invite the community.
Invite caged and leashed pets and their people. Invite not only your congregants and their pets, but also the animal lovers from the wider community. Encourage your congregation to invite their animal loving friends and neighbors along with their pets. Keep in mind that some people experience spirituality through their pets and encounters with God’s creation. For those whose pets do not play nicely with others and for pets that do not travel well, encourage their owners to bring a photo of their pet or display a photo of their pet on their phone for the blessing. Encourage children to bring their favorite stuffed animal for a blessing. Advertise the animal blessing in local veterinarian offices, pet stores, and other pet-friendly venues. An animal blessing is a wonderful opportunity to invite those who have not been in worship in a while as well as those who are unchurched.
Select a pet-friendly venue.
Hold the animal blessing in the sanctuary, a fellowship hall, on the church grounds, or somewhere in the wider community. If there are places in your community where pet owners congregate, consider having your animal blessing at such a venue (local park, dog park, doggy day care, etc.). If possible, have worship outside in a fenced area, just in case any of the creatures get out of their cages, carriers, harnesses, collars, or leashes.
If worship will be indoors, consider using a space without carpeting and where the floor, chairs, and pews can be easily cleaned. If the service will be in the sanctuary or a chapel where the pews have removable cushions, remove the pew cushions for the annual animal blessing and then return them following the service after the pews had been cleaned.
If your congregation does not have adequate lawn space or gathering space, consider partnering with another congregation, a local veterinary office, community park with a dog run, or another pet-friendly venue.
Keep the liturgy simple, yet meaningful.
A meaningful animal blessing is possible with prayer, scripture, music, and individual (or corporate) pet blessings. Focus on giving thanks to God for all the creatures of land, sea, and air. A brief inspirational message witnessing to God’s love and the congregation’s love, care, and concern for all of God’s creation is appropriate. If you opt to include a sermon or homily in the service, keep it brief and remember that the preacher will be competing with the animals for attention. Provide an opportunity for people to add their pets, themselves, and/or their loved ones to your congregation’s prayer list and provide instructions for how to add names to the prayer list in the future. Consider offering a treat or a bandana with your church’s logo to each pet along with the blessing but be sure to check with the owners before distributing treats since some pets have dietary restrictions.
Collect an offering of money and/or pet food, toys, blankets, towels for a local shelter, rescue, or humane society. Many of these organizations have easily accessible wish lists for easy online shopping.
Ways to connect with the community
Partner with one or more pet-friendly, animal loving organizations, for example:
- Pet adoption. Invite the local human society, shelter, or rescue to host an adoption event and be sure to offer a special blessing for those animals looking for their furever home.
- Police department/sheriff’s office. Invite mounted police or a K-9 officer and their K-9 to offer a public demonstration and offer a special blessing for the mounted police and K-9s who work to keep the community safe.
- Rabies clinic. Partner with the local municipality or a vet clinic to offer a reduced rate or free rabies vaccine as part of the celebration. Some pharmaceutical companies will donate vaccines for this purpose.
- Pet-friendly treat. Many bakeries offer pet-friendly treats, so invite a local bakery to donate some of their pet-friendly treats.
- Pet stores/trainers. Local pet stores and trainers may be willing to donate a door prize, display some of their merchandise at the venue or demonstrate some of their training techniques.
Encourage attendees to sign up for your newsletter/mailing list and follow your congregation on social media. Invite attendees to check in on your congregation’s social media and to post photos. Share photos from the Animal Blessing in the next issue of the newsletter as well as on social media thanking everyone for joining the service. Before blessing of the animals concludes, invite guests to the congregation’s next event, service, or ministry.
If your congregation has not held a Blessing of the Animals before, remember to start small, be flexible, and know that when two or more animals are gathered it will likely be chaotic, noisy, and fun, so let the Spirit move among and through you and the barks, meows, and squawks.
- Taking Church to the Community, a Lewis Center video tool kit resource
- Helping People Connect with God through Nature by Beth Norcross
- Putting Ourselves in the Places Where Life Happens by Keith Anderson
- Creatively Engaging Your Community While Remaining True to Who You Are by Paul Nixon
Cover photo from The Hingham Anchor featuring a Community Pet Blessing by Episcopal Parish of St. John the Evangelist and Second Parish Unitarian Universalist.