“You made the pets we welcome in/ They’re wondrous blessings too./ With paws and whiskers, wings and fins,/ They offer praise to you.”
This is a verse from “O God Your Creatures Fill the Earth,” a hymn sung on Saturday morning at St. Mary’s Episcopal’s annual Blessing of the Animals ceremony. Over 40 pet-loving friends of the church gathered to celebrate their companion animals and Saint Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of ecology, who believed that nature itself was the mirror of God.
This was the third Animal Blessing that has been held during the summer. The traditional time to hold it is at the Feast of St. Francis on October 4, but Father Charles McCarron decided to hold it in the summer so more people would have access to it.
According to Father McCarron, the Blessing of the Animals tradition started in Episcopal churches, the most famous one being at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, where they bless elephants, horses, camels, and other animals that seem too large and noisy to be incorporated into a church service.
St. Mary’s ceremony takes place inside the church because “It’s always a religious thing for us, that’s why we don’t do it outside. It’s just acknowledgement of God’s presence in creation and a celebration of it.”
They also offer an official service on the same day for people who have lost their pets or companion animals.
“Our church recognizes that it’s a real grief and we want to help people with it,” Father McCarron said.
The service welcomed families from around the Island. Jenny and Kieran Sullivan of Bronxville brought their Golden Doodle, Sally, who they’ve brought to every blessing for four years because, “Jesus loves her and she loves it.”
Kate Norse brought her German Shorthaired Pointer, Lila, for her first blessing.
“She was nervous. She was pacing the pews with her tongue out,” she said.
In the ceremony’s accompanying program, Father Charles wrote, “Celebrating Francis of Assisi’s memory is risky, because there’s no way to know in advance what the proportion of growling to wagging, and hissing to purring, will be. But celebrating the memory of St. Francis with our companion animals makes us more aware of the fact that relationships always involve risk, and that the God who risked everything for us calls us into relationships anyway.