Extending the Blessing: Families and Pets Gather for Blessing Ceremony

Photo by Brandon Doerrer.

Churchgoers and their pets gathered at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church on Main Street in New Paltz this past weekend as part of its annual Blessing of the Animals ceremony.

Like many years past, dogs, cats and birds came together on Sunday, Oct. 2 to be blessed in honor of St. Francis of Assisi. The blessings were preceded by worship, where out of 40 attendees, three brought their pets. Rev. Robin L. James, who is also the director and chaplain for the Episcopal Campus Ministry at New Paltz, said that out of the three years she has been a part of St. Andrew’s, this number is fairly standard. However, just because pets were not present did not mean they were excluded.

“We recognize that it can be very stressful for our pets to bring them to an unfamiliar setting, so this year we named our absent pets and said a prayer of blessing over them too,” James said.

Following worship, pets and owners convened on the front lawn of St. Andrew’s where they were met by an additional seven owners and their furry companions. Rev. James spoke to each owner and pet who wished to participate in the Episcopal and Catholic tradition individually, giving them her blessings.

St. Francis, a 13th century monastic and patron of animals, is recognized throughout the Episcopal Church, according to James. He is known throughout the Church for his love of all creations, with an emphasis being placed on nature and animals. The tradition of blessing animals is practiced every year on the closest Sunday to Oct. 4, the feast day of St. Francis.

“Creation, of course, extends not just to the planet and people walking on it, but also to the many animals that we call our pets,” James said.

Pets are not the only animals who can be blessed, however. James also spoke of circus animals such as elephants being led down the aisle and blessed in larger churches like the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in Manhattan.

Residents from New Paltz and beyond travelled to St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church on Sunday, whether they belonged to the church or not.

The notion that creation encompasses animals was reflected by Pine Bush resident Joanne McMahon, who came to St. Andrew’s to get her dog Tgan blessed upon her pastor’s recommendation.

The scope of creation continued to expand at the blessing, as James also shared her experiences blessing church buildings, homes and even cars.

“I am grateful for all that God has given me through God’s creation, so I bless animals and cars and houses,” she said.

The Blessing of the Animals continues to be a valued tradition for churchgoers and the clergy alike.

“I am always pleased to observe St. Francis Day and the Blessings of the Animals annually,” James said.