Tips for Holding a ‘Blessing of the Animals’ Service
- Think about waste/cleaning. This is usually not a problem, but some congregations prefer to hold their blessings outside just in case. I’ve found many congregations panic about this their first time, but quickly realise it’s not a problem.
For example: “Fr. Marty Zlatic is the rector at St. Joseph’s in Boyton Beach, Florida, which hosts one of the largest and well organized blessings events in the country.
Marty explains, “The novelty of animals in church itself draws people to the event. For the first years I was here, the volunteers always covered all the floors with dropcloths that were taped down. It created a walking health hazard for the humans. I asked how many pet ‘accidents’ we had in previous years, and no one could remember any. We stopped doing that 10 years ago, and have had very few accidents. We have to get the carpets cleaned periodically anyway – so we just schedule the cleaning right after the event.”
- Keep it short – animals can only stay still so long. (Sometimes it can work well to hold the blessing separately after Sunday service, with enough time for people to go home and fetch their animals in between, so they don’t have to sit through the sermon etc.)
- Make sure there is plenty of water and shade, and a toilet spot outside.
- Try to keep different types of animals a bit separate for the safety of all. Safety must be paramount – the worst possible outcome would be for someone to go home with an injured pet! Small animals like rabbits, mice, guinea pigs etc. are usually best left in their cages for protection. If you are lucky enough to have a python brought along, make sure that children do not pat food animals like mice before patting the snake (so avoid bitten fingers).
- If people have less social (or well-behaved) pets, invite them to bring a photo for blessing instead.
- Embrace the noise. Some churches find that animals really enjoy the hymns and decide to howl or chirp along!
- If you would like to ‘dip your toe in the water’, why not organise a combined service with another local church who have done a service before? You can learn from the experience, and it’s more fun with more animals!
- Advertise widely! Many members of the wider community who don’t attend church regularly might still be interested in having their pets blessed. They recognise the significance of the act of blessing, and appreciate our recognition of the important role their pets have in their lives. If you can hold the service out the front of your church, this can be advantageous. People walking past with their dogs will sometimes come and ask for a blessing.
- Ask congregation members to invite friends and family along, or to give their neighbours some flyers. You may even like to do a letterbox drop or create a Facebook event to advertise the service.
- Take lots of photos! And get permission to share them on social media etc.
- Always show the photos in church the next week in case people missed your blessing!
Liturgy and Theology
- Call it a ‘Blessing of the Animals’, not just a ‘Blessing of the Pets’, to recognise all the wonderful creatures we share this world with, not just those who are our companions. (You may also like to include a prayer for endangered animals).
- A blessing service might be a bit out of their comfort zone for some congregations the first time. Be prepared, and help them through the process. Some of the congregations I had the most trouble convincing to try it ended up loving it the most – and immediately planning the next year’s service! You might also like to read some animal theology to prepare for questions about what we mean when we “bless” animals, or what our faith says about animals.
- Always do blessings individually, include the whole family of the animal, and make it feel like a significant liturgical moment for each pet. Some churches also hand out certificates, or even St Francis medallions to help people mark the event.
- Include a prayer for pets who have died. We form very deep bonds with our pets and miss them long after they have passed on. Never allow anyone to dismiss the love or grief we feel for them.
Googling “Blessing of the Animals” results in millions of pages and liturgies – find something that works for you!
If you would like to be really inspired, check out St John the Divine church in NY – they’ve even had elephants! https://untappedcities.com/2016/10/03/all-creatures-great-and-small-blessing-the-animals-at-new-yorks-largest-cathedral/