For the past eight years, St. James has celebrated St. Francis Day with a blessing of the animals even though, Gerald explains, “I happen to be allergic to animal hair.”
“Pets are very important to the members of this congregation,” says Gerald, who was inspired to start the tradition at his congregation when he’d seen other churches having success with it.
St. Francis Day is celebrated each year on Oct. 4, in commemoration of St. Francis of Assisi’s feast day. St. Francis is the patron saint of animals and ecology and was the author of a number of hymns about animals and creation.
“St. Francis loved the animals,” Gerald says, and, judging by the attendance at each year’s Saturday service, members of St. James love their animals, too.
The service is short so as not to “test the patience of the animals,” as Gerald puts it. Each year it features singing St. Francis’ “All Creatures of Our God and King,” a reading of the creation story from Genesis, a brief homily, and a litany of blessing for the pets present.
At the end of the service, attendees may bring their pets forward for an individual blessing, and then they get to take a keepsake home with them. One year every pet got a special treat. Another year everyone took home a photograph of their pet receiving the blessing. This time around everyone will receive a small icon of St. Francis.
“Once we started doing (the blessing), folks loved it,” Gerald says. “Especially some of the older members who live alone, their pets are real companions to them,” he continues. “They’re also really important to young families. Children love their pets and become very attached.”