Each year around this time, Church Street United Methodist Church holds its Blessing of the Animals. The time of year is chosen to coincide with the death of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals. The ceremony is held “in honor of this blessed saint . . .” and “all God’s creatures and (to) give thanks for what they do for us and for what they mean to us and to God.”
After a brief liturgy of prayer and scripture a blessing is read followed by an individual blessing of each animal with a clergy person. Always fun, it is sometimes touching with at least one person each year bringing their beloved animal friend who is in some stage of dying. For some of these, it seems a poignant way to say, “goodbye.”
Others bring young puppies or other very young and bouncy animals. I’d have to say the two that stole my heart this year were a brother and sister Golden Retriever puppies. I’m pretty biased in the direction of that breed and these two were as sweet and charming as any I’ve ever seen.
There are often unusual animals present, and this year proved no different. Two rats didn’t exactly mingle with the other animals, but they walked around on their owner’s arms and shoulders. I learned they came from one of several rat rescue operations in the country. I never realized there was such a thing. Apparently, rats which have survived the lab are prime candidates. The same family brought rats last year, but alas, those rats are no longer with us. Rats, according to what I was told, have a relatively short life span.
Perhaps the most unexpected animal to be spotted was a Hermit Crab. He emerged for his photograph and then disappear from view. I don’t think he was particularly up to mingling. The gathered congregants primarily consisted of dogs. Small, large, young, old, active, lethargic: they came in all varieties.
Excited animals are not easy to photograph. Many of my shots consisted of furry blurs. Some of the prettiest dogs never made the cut because I couldn’t get a decent picture of them. It’s pretty miraculous that such a large group of diverse animals can meet, mingle and even worship without a nasty nip or an even larger disaster, but it always seems to work.
If you’d like to see pictures from last year’s event, you’ll find them here: 2011. I’d encourage you to try it out next year, if it seems like your kind of thing. It’s fun, it’s sweet and on a clear Autumn afternoon in east Tennessee, it’s not a bad place to be: in a beautiful courtyard surrounded by wonderful animals and the people who love them.