Many churches and faith communities offer animal blessing ceremonies. A popular date for these events is the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, which is celebrated on October 4. If your church is offering a blessing of the animals or if you are interested in starting one, take a look at these 10 tips.
1. Start Small
If your community has never held a blessing of the animals service before, start small. Decide what is most important for your community in your context, and keep your planning focused on that. These events can build over time.
Here are some practical basics to consider:
- Why does blessing animals matter to your community? Identifying what your community values about the blessing of animals or Feast of St. Francis can help you discern how to organize the event. A church with a community garden, for example, might want to bless the pollinators and earthworms (this idea is drawn from “‘Blessing the Fields’: A Liturgy for Community Farms and Gardens” by Nurya Love Parish [Feb. 8, 2023]).
- How will animals be present and participate? Animals can be included in many different ways. If bringing particular animals to a physical worship setting would be distressing for them, your community can integrate alternative approaches like bringing photos or objects that belong to pets or using Zoom for online blessings (two ideas highlighted in “Inclusive St. Francis Celebrations” [Sept. 14, 2020]). You might also consider going to your local zoo or aquarium to bless animals there (an idea from “Blessing Animals at the Zoo” by Corrie Cabes [Sept. 20, 2021]).
- When and where will you hold the service?
- How long will the service be?
2. Remember Animals’ Necessities
If your event is outside and pets are attending, provide shade, water, and designated areas for animals to do their business. (Note: These tips originally came from an article called “10 Commandments of Animal Blessings” on a website that is no longer available as of 2023).
3. Consider Blessing Animals in the Church
Crazy, right? It may be worth considering.
The Rev. Marty Zlatic is the rector at St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church in Boynton Beach, Florida which hosts one of the largest and well organized blessing events in the country. Zlatic says, “The novelty of animals in church itself draws people to the event. For the first years I was here, the volunteers always covered all the floors with dropcloths that were taped down. It created a walking health hazard for the humans. I asked how many pet ‘accidents’ we had in previous years, and no one could remember any. We stopped doing that 10 years ago, and have had very few accidents. We have to get the carpets cleaned periodically anyway – so we just schedule the cleaning right after the event.”
4. Recognize Departed Pets
Include a prayer for animals who have died. In the article, “Blessing of the Animals” (Oct. 6, 2013), the author, PeaceBang, suggests developing a “ritual of remembrance” for deceased pets. Their ritual involves lighting candles and reciting pets’ names.
For more ideas, liturgical resources, and prayers, check out “Saying Goodbye to Pets” by Sarah Bentley Allred (Jun. 20, 2019).
5. Offer Take-home Materials
A simple take-home resource or commemorative item can give participants a way to remember the day and carry its meaning into their lives of faith. A few ideas to try are:
- Blessing certificate – Check out this Blessing of Animals Certificate sample from St. Joseph’s Boynton for inspiration. You can distribute certificates at the event or do what St. Joseph’s does: ask people to fill out a form with their names and addresses and then mail the certificates after the event. (Note: Receiving contact information can also help your community continue to develop relationships with participants.)
- Photo – If you decide to take photos of the blessings, you could mail or email photos to participants following the event.
- Feast of St. Francis handout – This printable front-and-back handout by The Rev. Jennifer McNally and The Rev. Anna V. Ostenso Moore includes a bio for St. Francis of Assisi, scripture, a blessing, and prayers.
- Prayer card – You can create prayer cards on sturdy quarter- or half-sheet letter-sized paper or cardstock with the “Prayer Attributed to St. Francis” (which you can access at the Mission of St. Clare website and The Book of Common Prayer, p. 833) or another prayer for animals or creation.
6. Solidify a Strong Group of Volunteers
Recruit a group of volunteers to provide extra support for all participants at the event. You may want to make volunteer t-shirts or badges to designate them.
Here are some volunteer roles and tasks that you may need to delegate:
- Extra greeters in the parking lot and at church entrances to welcome and direct guests
- Multiple “traffic control” volunteers to keep things moving and organized
- Someone to take photos
- If you’re planning to distribute take-home materials, at least one person to hand out items
7. Reach Out to Local Animals and Community Members Who Work with Animals
In addition to blessing parishioners’ pets and animals, your community can invite other local animals and people who care for them to be blessed.
Some examples to consider are:
- Local pet shelter – You may want to invite them to bring animals available for adoption or ask your congregation to donate needed supplies
- Service and therapy animals
- Area veterinarians
8. Spread the Word
Along with using your community’s standard communication channels, publicize with flyers and invitations. Have parishioners give them to friends, neighbors, or anyone they see walking a dog. This is a great low-pressure way for people to invite others to church.
You can also contact local media in order to promote the event to your wider community. This “Evangelism through the Blessing of Animals” article, originally written by Jenni Faires and republished on Building Faith (Sept. 21, 2022), shares several ideas for getting the word out through local press and radio stations.
9. Provide Clear & Hospitable Bulletins
If you are printing a bulletin, make it clear and easy for everyone to follow. You may want to include directions for the blessing portion of the service and notes about where stations for water and other provisions for animals are located.
Check out this sample bulletin from The Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea in Palm Beach, Florida as an example. (Note: This document cannot be copied or reused because it contains copyrighted music.)
Some good starting points for developing a liturgy in various denominational contexts include:
10. Focus on the BLESSING
Amid the details, don’t lose sight of the reason why people come: that moment when a pet or animal is blessed in the name of the Triune God. Ensure there is enough time, enough room, and enough clergy to make each blessing special.
Of course, every clergy person has different notions of how and why to bless. Within the context of your community and in keeping with your theology, decide how best to articulate your blessing, and go for it!
Editor’s Note: This article was published on September 24, 2014. It has been revised to remove broken links, update recommendations, replace header image, add photo credit, and reformat content to our 2023 editorial style. The updated article has been republished on September 18, 2023.