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On Saturday, October 8th, Messiah Lutheran Church conducted a Blessing of the Animals Service. At Messiah Lutheran Church, along with many other churches, it has become the custom to bless pets on St. Francis day.

St. Francis enjoyed a legendary relationship with animals, and stories about his experiences with them abound. It is said that St. Francis loved animals so much that he regularly bought captured birds and freed them.

Perhaps the best story about St. Francis concerns a wolf that was terrorizing an Italian town. St. Francis convinced the townsfolk to feed the animal regularly in exchange for its friendship. Though there were no wolves at Messiah’s Blessing of the Animals Service, there were 10 dogs, 1 cat, and 1 Guinea Pig. The Guinea Pig was a little nervous with all of the bigger animals around, but the spirit of St. Francis prevailed and all of the animals were on their best behavior.

During the service, Randall Fields performed an excellent solo rendition of “God of the Sparrow” while holding his dog. It was very impressive.

Do you give special thanks for the animals who share your home? Do you count them among the blessings of this life?

Gracious Lord, thank you for the gift of animals. Thank you for making these dear creatures which have become blessings in our lives. May we see in them your unfailing love, and may we share with them your boundless compassion. Amen.

Special thanks to Jonianne Ridzelski McCombs who coordinated the Blessing of the Animals service and delivered a lovely meditation on why animals are important to her.  The following is the text of her meditation:

Years ago I asked Pastor Scott if we could have a Blessing of the Animals at Messiah Lutheran Church.  He seemed pleased as well as scared.
Pleased because he was and is well-versed in St. Francis Assisi.  Scared because he is allergic to cats.
Many churches celebrate the Feast of St Francis of Assisi on October 4 each year. The feast commemorates the life of St Francis. It is a popular time for pets to be “blessed”.
Saint Francis was the First Advocate for Animals.  He is known as the patron saint of animals and ecology (or environment).  He is also known as the Promoter of Peace, Simplicity, and Harmony.  In a time when animals were last in line to be treated with any respect, Frances understood the need that respect begins with all creatures.
These services are a powerful way to celebrate both Francis’s and God’s compassionate concern for all creatures.
She works like a dog.  He eats like a pig.  He eats like a bid.  Or she gets my goat. They let out a wolf-whistle which really embarrassed her, because she’s as timid as a mouse.
Where would we be without our animal friends?  Our figures of speech would be so much less rich, for one thing. Animals have provided covering for our fragile skins, food for our empty bellies, bones for tools, oil for light, free labor for our fields and farms, subjects for scientific experiments that have benefited you and me.
And yet for most of us, our connection to the creaturely world comes exclusively through the companionship of those animal friends we call our pets. For the more politically correct animal advocates, “animal companion” is the preferred term, as it takes away the connotation of ownership. After all, do we really “own” our pets or do they own us? From my own experience as a caretaker of many animals in my life — I would vote for neither.  We’ re responsible for their food, shelter and veterinary care — and to that extent are their keepers — but truth be told, they “keep” us just as surely as we keep them, but they keep us through bonds of unconditional affection. We keep them through care and they keep us by loyalty.
We love our animals. They ask so little. They respond to the simple pleasures of existence with such fullness of spirit.
For me, there was no question that this celebration or blessing was something that I want to do.  Something I care about. 
From my very first animal companion.  As a little child.  I still remember snuggling up to a poodle that nobody wanted because her body wasn’t the show-dog type of body.  She was the runt.  But she was my buddy.  All the way through my teenage years.  I remember when she died and how it hurt me more than anyones death before her. 
To my two cats now.  The snuggling with my animal friends is so therapeutic.   Talking to my cats is so therapeutic.  Playing with my cats is so relaxing.  They are such a blessing.
But what is a Blessing?
I have talked about the blessing of the animals and how my animal friends are a blessing.
I looked up the definition on-line.
1.)        God’s favor and protection as in may God continue to give us his blessing
2.)        A prayer asking for such favor and protection as in a priest gave a blessing as the ship was launched
3.)        Grace said before or after a meal
4.)        A beneficial thing for which one is grateful; something that brings well-being
5.)        A person’s sanction or support as in he gave his blessing for his daughter to marry.
But I like the verb of Bless, which is to honour something.
The animals in my life have brought me such comfort and joy.  It is a way I could bring them into my spiritual life and honour them.
What looked like a pet show was actually a blessing in disguise.
We call this service the blessing of the animals.  But of course, it is they who bless us.