For many people, their pets play a part in their spiritual lives. Many people believe that when they lose a pet to death that they will see that pet again. Some believe their departed pets watch over them. In ancient Egypt, cats played an important role in Egyptian society. In addition to co-existing with Egyptians as pets, cats were viewed as symbols of grace and divinity. Some, including C.S. Lewis, believe that animals will be in heaven with humans. Others, believing that animals do not have souls, do not. But many people pray for their animals when they are sick. Animals are part of our lives, and that means even our religions. This is especially the case for many today, October 4th, the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of the animals.
Animals come to church on the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi
The history of St. Francis is an interesting one. It is traditional on the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi for people to bring their animals to church, or pictures of departed pets, for a blessing. Of course, it is considered good mannered to only bring pets who are good with other pets and people. Especially with exotic pets, it may be necessary to just bring a photograph of your pet if they are not comfortable around other animals, or are dangerous to other people. Pet blessings in Utah happen around the 4th, though some choose a different date.
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Provo held theirs at at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, October 1st. Rev. Peter J. Van Hook presided. Silverado Senior Living in Salt Lake City chose to do so earlier in the year, June 4th. They asked pets, their owners and relatives of residents to gather for a memorial service for those who passed away over the previous year as well as an animal blessing by facility chaplain. The Congregational United Church of Christ of Ogden held their Pet Blessing Service last Sunday, the 2nd. Another church that chose another date to bless the animals is Christ United Methodist Church in Millcreek. Their Annual Blessing of the Animals was held Saturday, May 7 at a nearby park to accommodate more “energetic” animals.
For others, Feast of St. Francis is not enough
For some people, animals are more a part of their lives and clergy is trying to learn how to help and counsel people with the loss or illness of animals, and otherwise learning to adapt the way they interact in those situations. According to Episcopal News Service:
Sue Grisham, co-founder of the Episcopal Network for Animal Welfare, urged the committee also to recommend developing prayers for those with sick or dying animals or considering euthanasia for a pet.
“This is not a feel-good resolution for those of us who love dogs and cats,” said the Rev. Lee Shaw (Utah), proposer of one of the resolutions. “This is not a soft, furry resolution to be disposed of.”
Rather, he said, it responds to a pastoral need, particularly in ministering to children, for whom an animal’s loss often is “their first real experience with death,” and for elders, for whom a pet “may be the last relationship this person has on earth.”