For the first time in six years, all creatures great and small will be blessed outside Robert Carr Chapel Wednesday, Oct 4.
The Blessing of the Animals will take place 5 p.m. Wednesday and attendees can bring leashed animals, photographs or toys to represent their animals for a blessing. Animals will be anointed with oil or water following a reading of the prayer of St. Francis, but the service will be interfaith.
Associate chaplain Rev. Lea McCracken and university minister Rev. Angela Kaufman are coordinating the service with faculty from the Human-Animal Relationships (HARE) minor. Kaufman said space will be made for skittish pets to receive blessing away from crowds.
While animal blessings are common in the Catholic and Protestant churches, McCracken said these services vary between congregations.
“Some churches have done it for 50 years and some churches have never heard of it,” she said.
The animal blessing takes place on St. Francis of Assisi Feast Day – a Christian holy day celebrating the patron saint of animals. Since St. Francis is said to have blessed animals, McCracken said animal services are a good way to recognize the bond animals have to both humans and their creator.
“When we bless we are giving thanks to God for the gift of animals,” McCracken said, “We are also acknowledging they are worthy of love, care and respect, and accepting our role in providing that.”
HARE director and anthropology professor Dr. Dave Aftandilian said he approached McCracken about reintroducing the service because the timing was right. The HARE minor was introduced last fall and Aftandilian said there’s been a heightened interest in the field.
“We’re all about all aspects of human-animal relationships and the human-animal bond is a very powerful example of that,” he said.
Aftandilian specializes in animals and religion. While many might not think to associate the two, he said animals and religious practices are found among many religious and cultural groups. In particular, he said, several Native American tribes value animals’ spiritual presence and autonomy. He said that is how Native Americans bring animals and spirituality together – something he said the animal blessing will replicate.
“For me, it’s a different way to understand human-animal relationships, and I think it’s important that our students experience that,” he said. “It’s not so much us blessing them as them blessing us.”
Growing up, Aftandilian saw animals as kinder than humans, as they see a person for their heart and not their appearance, he said.
“When I see an animal I see God’s hand involved,” he said. “They’re part of the way I feel my own spirituality. They’re part of the way that I enter a larger world beyond this world.”
McCracken and Aftandilian emphasized the interfaith nature of the service, saying everyone should feel comfortable attending.
“It’s a good foundational way for anybody of any walk of faith – or lack thereof – to come together for no other reason but to honor the animals in our lives that bring us such joy and such love,” McCracken said.
Aftandilian asked for people with snakes or potentially scary pets to call ahead in case special arrangements are required. He added elephants might be hard to accommodate.
Editor’s note: This story has been update to correct the title of Dr. Dave Aftandilian as an anthropology professor.