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Pets In the Pews For The Feast Of St. Francis

My dog Bijou smiles for his first church service. He attended the pet blessing and service at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. Philip last year. The once a year service is held in honor of the Feast of St. Francis, the patron saint of animals and the environment. (Photo courtesy Rosemary Jean-Louis/GPB)

I have always dreamed of bringing my dog to a church service just like on that episode of the Vicar of Dibley, when Geraldine Granger invited villagers to bring all their creatures great and small to St. Barnabas Church.

Last year my dream came true and will come true again.

My dog Bijou and I were welcomed at the Cathedral of St. Philip’s animal blessing and worship service in honor of the Feast of St. Francis. There, pets of all sizes and stripes were accepted in the pews on Sunday alongside their human caretakers.

St. Francis is the patron saint of animals and the environment. His feast day is October 4 and many churches hold animal blessings and services that allow animals inside in tribute to him.

Dan Murphy, communications director at the Cathedral of St. Philip says the church has been holding this type of religious service “for decades.”

“It’s not just about allowing (pets in church),” he says. “It’s a matter of welcoming them.” He says the unique service is a way to honor St. Francis, “remember all of God’s creation, bless them and have them bless us with their presence”.

This year’s service takes place Sunday, October 4 at 8:45 a.m. After a very lively church full of howls, barks and meows, churchgoers can bring their pets over to the garden for a blessing by the priest.

Bijou attempts to sing a hymn!

Bijou and I appearing alongside a statue of St. Francis after he received his blessing.

Cathedral of Christ the King Pet Blessings

While animals are not included during Mass at the Cathedral of Christ the King, across the street, pet blessings take place on church grounds. Come rain or shine, on Saturday, October 3 at 10 a.m., dogs, cats, hamsters, pigs, and all can receive a blessing in the lower level parking lot in a special ceremony for the Feast of St. Francis.

”Stories tell us that St. Francis met animals where they were, in their natural habitats, which, in his time, would have been the outdoors,” says Elaine McCollum, Associate Director of Family and Children’s Ministries at Christ the King as to why the pet blessings are held outside.

“Also as a matter of simple logistics, bringing potentially hundreds of pets of varying temperaments together in a confined space like the inside of a church could be risky as well as create some unsanitary conditions in a sacred space.”

I took Bijou to a pet blessing at Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Decatur several years ago. My mother and I joke that he got “baptized” that day as he was sprinkled with holy water.

Bijou and my mom during his pet blessing at the back parking lot of Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church several years ago. 

Whether held indoors during a service or outside in a special ceremony, having a pet blessed in honor of the saint who called attention to treating them humanely is a blessing unto itself.