Our first Blessing of the Animals at Canberra Baptist, on Ngunnawal and Ngambri land, was in 2014 and there were inevitable references – to another female minister – the Vicar of Dibley!
In the seven years that we have engaged in this practice, however, a change has taken place. As we have continued to bless animals and people, and our natural environment, the blessing has shifted from being a novelty, to a statement, to a blessing that also includes us, that we need ourselves.
Initially the service was viewed as a frivolity. Having animals in church was not thought conducive to worship or good for the carpet! So, the first service was held under the trees in our courtyard and attended by 73 humans, ten dogs, three guinea pigs, two budgies, one cat and one rabbit. The next year, when bad weather threatened, we were allowed inside as the carpet was about to be replaced anyway!
In 2016 other events took priority, but in 2017 we resumed, again in the outdoors; this time using the setting to make connections with the natural world.
We heard the story of St Francis of Assisi preaching to the birds, a story that reminds us of the value of all creation, its role in God’s redeeming work, its role in ministering to us! So, we sat in the courtyard and listened, asking, “What are the birds preaching to us?”
That theme continued in 2018, and in 2019, as we reflected on The Global Footprint Network Calculator, the index measuring how much of the earth’s biologically productive land and sea area we are using. According to this index, we currently consume at a rate as though we had 1.75 earths!
In 2020, however, the Blessing of the Animals was different. In the weeks before, people, notably people on the fringes of our community, commented, “Forget Christmas. This is the one service of the year I can’t miss!” Due to Covid restrictions, some gathered outside, some gathered inside and many over Zoom, and there were the animals; cats, guinea pigs, a bearded dragon, lots of dogs, and images of birds and other wildlife people had been observing – far more closely than ever before - during lockdown! The atmosphere was raucous, and joyous! The feeling that we did this because we should care for creation, the earnestness, was gone, as well as the critique that this was just a frivolity.
After lockdown, in the ongoing stress of the pandemic, we needed this blessing. We needed to feel connected. We needed to acknowledge we are not isolated from each other and our environment. We weren’t doing this to save the world, but to save ourselves. We all needed this blessing.
On the 3rd October, the Sunday before St Francis of Assisi day which is the official end of Season of Creation, we will bless the animals again. This time, apart from a small team in the church, we will all be on Zoom, but the service will again connect us; to each other and to our world and to our God who loves this world, entirely and completely, and blesses every part of it.
You are invited to attend Canberra Baptist, The Blessing of the Animals, 3 October 10am (AEST) on Zoom.
Zoom link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/410991017?pwd=WEdZakgzL1d0cDRrQUVaQ0kxd0JrQT09#success
Belinda Groves is the Team Leader at Canberra Baptist Church in Ngunnawal Country in the nation’s capital, a church with a rich tradition of thoughtful worship and theological reflection and lived practice of discipleship, hospitality, mercy, and justice. She has one husband, Aron Downey, two dogs, Mischief and Monty, and three children, Miriam, Grace and Zachary – none of whom would miss the Blessing of the Animals!