With the news that a Church of England Curate has introduced a special liturgy blessing the cows owned by her parishioners, we take a moment to recollect some of the ways and places animals have come into contact with the church.
One of the most famous and ubiquitous of the medieval Christian saints, Francis of Assisi was famous for many things, including preaching to birds.
He believed that all living things needed to hear God’s word, and didn’t hesitate from declaring God’s love just because his listeners had feathers.
Renowned for a holy and ascetic life, Francis abandoned his possessions and became – as Jesus recommended, like the flowers of the field and birds of the air, as such he naturally came to see his feathered friends as brothers and sisters.
Statues of Francis often show him with a bird perched on his hand, famously creatures weren’t frightened of him.
Rattling into the 21st century, mega church pastor Rick Warren, author of the Purpose Driven Life and other things, may not be an exact contemporary of the poor man of Assisi.
But Rick has made his own attitudes toward the animal kingdom quite clear, telling an interviewer: “I can't imagine God not allowing my dog into heaven.”
His views on human salvation may be a little more strictly evangelical, but Rick seems not to believe that animals need to be repentant before gaining salvation.
As part of an inclusivity drive, or an attempt to get more people into church, depending upon whom you ask – a number of churches have chosen to conduct pet blessings as part of their regular calendar.
The services may be held inside a church building, or at times in a car park, and may include priests sprinkling holy water on curious poodles and other well loved animals.
Although these services are particularly popular with dog lovers, there have been stories of parishioners who have turned up to services with horses, and even tortoises in the hope of having them blessed, and joining in a light-hearted family affair.
Blessing of the cows
The latest incarnation of the ‘pet blessing’ thinking is the Cow blessing liturgy, created by Shropshire curate Rev Shirley Small, who was responding to a request from a church member, that she bless his milking parlour.
Mrs Small devised a service which blessed the cattle and the farm workers, and which asked: “Bless, O God, this milking parlour and the animals within it, this house and this farm – and those who live and work here. Give them health and strength in their daily labours - and thankfulness in all your gifts…”
According to the Bible, God is not beyond using animals for his own purposes, in one famous instance he sent a messenger to the sorcerer Baalam, who was rebuked by his donkey. Less charitable observers have commented that God has since spoken many times through Asses, most of whom don’t have four legs.
August 30th, 2012 - Posted & Written by Simon Cross