Dogs and cats and bearded dragons, oh my!
On Saturday, October 16, Mulberry Street United Methodist Church in Macon held a Blessing of the Animals service for church and community members and their pets.
While most of the 60 or so attendees brought their dog or cat – about 30 pets in all – one young girl brought her pet lizard, a bearded dragon.
A first for the church, the service was an opportunity for the community to bring their pets to receive a special blessing in accordance with the Oct. 4 feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals.
The simple blessing, given to both pet and owner, was, “(Pet’s name), may you be blessed in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. May you and your owner enjoy life together and find joy with the God who created you."
Though Mulberry Street UMC created their own, a service for the blessing of animals can be found in the United Methodist Book of Worship (page 608). The blessing witnesses to God’s and the church’s love, care and concern for creation. “As we recognize our mutual interdependence with God’s creatures,” the introduction explains, “the Church’s witness of stewardship of creation is strengthened.”
The Book of Worship recommends the church yard or a park as the ideal venue for blessing domestic pets and other animals, and those who gathered at Mulberry Street UMC enjoyed perfect weather in the church’s courtyard.
“It was a beautiful fall day,” said church member Carol Head, who brought her cat, Leo, to be blessed. Having heard of animal blessing services at other churches, she was happy that Mulberry Street UMC was hosting one. “It sounded like such a nice way to extend our worship and our awareness of the glory of creation, so we were really excited about getting to do that.”
Mulberry Street UMC associate pastor Rev. Ben Gosden says that the idea for the service was born out of a desire to create ways in which the church can minister to their community.
“We’ve also been trying to figure out ways to be hospitable to folks who aren’t our members,” he said. “This was, we were hoping, an opportunity to reach out and offer something that is not traditional and to celebrate the gift of community, fellowship and family.”
In considering Leo a part of their family, Head is no different than many other pet owners.
A 2009 Associated Press-Petside.com poll found that half of all American pet owners consider their pets as much a part of the family as any other person in the household; another 36 percent said their pet is part of the family but not a full member.
Of the service, Head said, “It was almost like getting to come up individually and have your baby baptized. It was almost tearful; it was so sweet.”
An event for the entire family, couples came with pets and young children in tow, and grandchildren joined grandparents. Cookies and lemonade were served to the humans, while dog biscuits were given to the four-legged attendees.
“We refer to ourselves as the family of Mulberry,” Head said. “We consider ourselves all family and extended family members. We see each other at worship services on Sunday, at Sunday school, Wednesday night suppers, at small groups, at circles and various gatherings, but we don’t get to see the other extended family, the pets that are so very special in so many people’s lives. This is seeing another layer of who we are. It was a nice way to get that other extension of the Mulberry family all together.”
One church member who this summer suffered the loss of her beloved canine companion participated in the service with a borrowed dog.
Another family, after their dog was blessed, asked to have a family portrait taken with their pooch.
“I took their picture with the dog,” Rev. Gosden said. “It was truly a family celebration for all of them.”
--By Kara Witherow, South Georgia Advocate editor
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