“It was a barking, meowing, whinnying day!”
Those were the opening words from the Rev. Rodger Murchison, one of the pastors at the big First Baptist Church in Augusta, Georgia—after that church’s first-ever blessing of pets.
This church is attracting national attention, because Rodger, his clergy colleagues and their parishioners are using this pet blessing to dramatically open up awareness in their community of the world’s many larger needs. They’re following their popular pet event with an open forum on social justice later this week. We encourage such innovative approaches to ministry: working with families to inspire a larger spiritual vision of God’s work—and people’s needs—in the wider world.
So, we invited Rodger to send us news from Augusta. And did he ever! All the photos today are from the Sunday pet blessing.
Just look at these photos! Those of us living in the chilly North are envious of the parishioners still wearing shorts down in Georgia! We’re also envious of the beautiful array of pets—and the church’s careful attention to including parishioners with disabilities in this event. Bravo to Augusta First!
A PRAYER FOR BLESSING ANIMALS
The people of Augusta share this prayer that they used to begin the pet blessing …
O God, the source of all life, who created the animals because your universe was incomplete without them,
Bless these loving creatures that we bring before you today.
Bless these cats and dogs and mammals who amble through your grasses;
Bless these birds that wing through Your rich air that You breath forth; and
Bless the fish that dart through the living waters that You provide.
Bless the horses, cows, and other large animals that share the earth we all call home.
Protect all of Your created animals—protect them from harm and from their own curiosities.
Bless the caretakers of these animals—inspire us toward thanksgiving and convict us toward responsibility in relation to all the animals.
Nourish us with compassion, simplicity, honesty and unconditional love for all our pets and all of Your creation.
Our hearts desire is harmony and wholeness within Your creation and we ask these things with humble faith.
WHAT UNFOLDED IN ALL THAT COMMOTION?
The Rev. Rodger Murchison writes …
We were all amazed at the reverence of the animals, as if somehow they knew their paws and hooves were on holy ground. They had come to church and this outdoor sanctuary was their house of worship.
At the conclusion of the formal service order, five ministers fanned out into this congregation of God’s creation. After being told the name of each animal, the minister would offer a prayer with each family. There were two movements within our prayers: a prayer of Thanksgiving to God for creating this animal (we would call the animal by name) and a prayer of Responsibility to God for the pet owner and their duty to care for and love this animal.
I had the opportunity to pray with Jock the French poodle, Jake the parakeet, Angel the Persian cat, Jet the Shetland pony, Traveler the Siamese cat, and with Hayden and Willa two mixed-breed dogs that had been rescued from the animal shelter.
Our service had several special guests: two veterinarians, the Augusta Humane Society, a Wild Birds Shop, and a local bookstore offering many books and other materials for families who love animals.
It was a glorious afternoon but I must add, not without some tinge of sadness. Earlier in the day, just after our 11:00AM worship service, one church member told me she hoped it rained all afternoon. As I looked a bit puzzled, she commented, “Should Baptists be doing this sort of thing?”
I said it would be a simple service of Thanksgiving for and Responsibility to God’s creation. Then I quoted from the creation story in Genesis. She gave me a sardonic smile and walked away.
A second feeling of sadness came as I noticed that missing from our canine part of the congregation was B.J. He was a beautiful golden cocker spaniel. His family and I had met last week at the St. Francis Animal Hospital where B.J. died at age 16. At that mournful gathering, I shared the prayer of Thanksgiving and Responsibility. We all cried and were assured that an animal blessing was for the human family as well.
The front lawn of First Baptist Church Augusta, Ga. might not ever be the same. For a brief afternoon moment, it became sacred space. Some of the animals did give an offering but what they mostly gave were smiles, laughter and a since of holy communion with all of God’s creation.
Blessed be the Name of the Lord.
CARE TO READ MORE?
Earlier, we published two terrific “resource pages” on pets and faith, including recommended reading, tips on spiritual resources and very helpful Humane Society links on animals and religion. Here’s the page on St. Francis, John Wesley, recommended reading and the Humane Society. AND, here’s the second page with more cool ideas and even a couple of readers’ favorite pet stories.
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(Originally published at https://readthespirit.com/)