Saturday, October 1, 2011

Blessing the Animals: Another Reason to Be Rather Fond of the Episcopal Church

I may have accidentally cursed Boo Boo—cursed him to death. But I honestly don’t think I have that I kind of power. It was my first St. Francis Day as a priest (I had been ordained only a couple of weeks) and the first dogs I blessed were a pair of Pomeranians named Yogi and Boo Boo. Boo Boo wasn’t feeling great that day, his owner told me, and I offered an additional prayer for healing for the fuzzy-faced dog. But nevertheless, the very next day I received word that Boo Boo had died.

The Blessing of Animals on the Feast of St. Francis is not a strictly Episcopalian thing to do, but it is one of the liturgies we are best known for. There are no official liturgies to bless pets in the Book of Common Prayer, no special edition of Enriching Our Worship dedicated to ministry with non-humans. We are not the only denomination that blesses animals, and yet, in some circles we are best known for offering this unofficial rite.

Every year I meet people who only come to church on the Sunday following Oct. 4th to have their pet blessed. I never see them at Easter, their children are neither baptized nor confirmed, and they are ambivalent about their belief in the existence of God, but doggone it, they bring their dog to be blessed every year.

Blessing people’s pets can be the most important ministry that a parish can offer someone. I think sometimes it is easier to receive a blessing from God for your dog than it is for yourself. Priests ask for God’s blessing on all sorts of things for holy use. This ministry incorporates dogs and cats into the sacred calling of being God’s agents of grace in a harsh and lonely world.

Boo Boo’s death was not the result of a rookie mistake, a blessing-curse mix-up. Blessing that dog in his final hours gave his family immense comfort in knowing that Boo Boo truly died in peace. Perhaps the blessing gave him permission to let go and die.  All I know is that this ministry is totally worth the extra laundry I have to do to wash the dirty paw prints off of my alb.

The Rev. Lindsay Lunnum serves as the Assistant Rector at the Church of St. Barnabas in Irvington-on-Hudson, NY.