Church Street United Methodist Courtyard, Knoxville, October 2010
Knoxville likes to think itself progressive when it comes to our pets. Downtown we have many accommodations for our four-legged friends: We have a dog park, green patches for their relief equipped with little green baggies to contain their relief. Water bowls are scattered about Market Square on hot summer days. Not satisfied with simply meeting their animal needs, we now invite them into the many outdoor dining areas lining Market Square, Gay Street and the Old City. But if man does not live by food alone, what about Fido? Must he not need some spiritual food, just like his human?
Not to worry. A recent service at Church Street United Methodist Church on Henley Street took care of that grievous gap in our canine care. Further, it was not limited to dogs, with cats and rats getting equal sustenance. The rat didn’t exactly lie down with the cat, but it was a blessed day for all the gentle creatures.
Why do this? It is done in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals, who said, “Surely the animals praised the new Messiah just as the shepherds and angels did.” The ceremony was held on the 784th anniversary of his death date and a day before October 4, the traditional feast day in his honor, which is when Anglican and Catholic churches have traditionally blessed the animals. And so they are blessed as we “give thanks for what they do for us and for what they mean to us and to God,” according to the order of service.
Those gathered sang a song, prayed a prayer and each animal was blessed by a minister. Of course, treats were distributed, dogs howled and cats looked completely disinterested. The lone rat looked overwhelmed, perhaps daydreaming of a quiet day of cheese at home.