A quick phone call to the church office Monday morning confirmed the official Sunday attendance: 117 humans, 14 dogs, four cats and one bird.
This was the first time our congregation invited pets to worship — instead of blessing them the Saturday nearest St. Francis Day (Oct. 4). From conversations following worship, an e-mail and two phone calls first thing Monday, the day was declared “a success.” That’s good news to the pastors, one of whom reported this dream during the week: A dog did “you know what” in the sanctuary, causing a longtime member to yell at her to get the animals out of the church!
I heard neither yelling nor yelping when I entered church Sunday morning. In fact, there was a strange mix of peace and anticipation. Dogs to my left, dogs to my right — most of them sitting next to their owners on the pews. Some were more well-behaved or calm than others. Cats nestled in the laps of courageous owners. Immediately I wished I’d brought our dog, Murphy, or our cat, Honey. (I never considered bringing both!) But I didn’t want the stress of juggling a toddler and an animal. That didn’t stop one member, who brought his young son, a baby and two dogs — one a puppy.
The pastor named it as he began his sermon: “The energy of St. Francis is in our sacred space today.”
It was true. From the opening hymn, All Creatures, Worship God Most High, to the prayers that included petitions for veterinarians and “all animals who suffer pain, hunger or neglect” it was a day to honor and remember the sacredness of all creation.
Then came the individual blessings of the 14 dogs, four cats, one bird and a few additions—my son Peder’s stuffed kangaroo and his friend Gavin’s blanket covered with animal figures.
In front of me, Michael Musgrave tried to keep his shaggy dog, Jewels, quiet and calm throughout the service. As the pastor leaned over to bless Jewels, the dog became quiet and calm: “Jewels, may God bless you. May you and Michael enjoy life together and find joy with the God who created you. Amen.”
Yes, it was a Sunday quite unlike the other 51. And I’m most grateful for it—for it reminded me of how sacred all of life is and how we are connected to all living things. It was a day to thank God for letting us share the Earth with all the creatures—who were, after all, created first.
Those who had worried the animals would be a distraction soon realized this day was about faith, gratitude and praise—neither foolish nor trite.
Our pastor ended his sermon this way: “Francis’ foolish faith reminds us that God’s presence is known in all of life, in joy and suffering. If a mustard seed can teach us of faith, why not a sunrise, a beautiful song, a piece of artwork, the laughter of children, the hand of a beloved, the purr of a cat, the loyalty of a dog? In all these wise and wonderful gifts of God’s creation our hearts rejoice. Some would call it foolish. We call it gratitude and praise.”
© 2016 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers