Joining congregations across the globe this weekend, The Episcopal Church of the Ascension, Oak Grove United Methodist and St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church will conduct Blessing of the Animals services Saturday.
Beginning at 10:30 a.m. on the Church of the Ascension’s grounds — 205 W. Cherokee Ave. in Cartersville — the service will be a joint effort with the First Presbyterian Church of Cartersville and Sam Jones Memorial United Methodist Church. Along with a blessing being delivered to each animal, the offering will consist of a prayer and a reading from the Bible.
“Here at the church, we don’t exactly know when it started, but it’s a long-lasting tradition,” said Ashley Lingerfelt, communications coordinator for Church of the Ascension. “However, we’ve been doing it with Sam Jones [Memorial UMC] and the First Presbyterian for at least the last three years. ... All three of the churches work together. It’s a cooperative effort, and they’re all equally involved.
“... The purpose [of the service] is to basically honor the relationship between God and God’s creatures, and then God’s people and God’s creatures. It’s generally dogs and cats. However, in the past, we have had a llama and then some birds.”
At Oak Grove UMC, the Blessing of the Animals offering will be conducted for the first time at 10 a.m. While this will be a new offering for the church, its reverend is well-acquainted with the Blessing of the Animals service.
“Back in the 1980s, I was serving the church in Austell, and we did the very first one, as far as I know, that anybody had ever done in the Methodist Church,” said the Rev. Dr. Rebecca Duke Jones of Oak Grove UMC, 1689 Euharlee Road in Kingston. “Although we had the pet blessing service in our book of worship, I’d never heard of it. We decided to do it, and it was a great success. So I’ve done that in my other churches as I’ve gone from church to church through the years.
“This church had never had it before, and Joan Carroll, who volunteers at the Etowah Valley Humane Society, and I were talking last spring. I was telling her about the pet blessing service and she said that would be wonderful, [and] we ought to do that. So we said, ‘Well, let’s ask the council.’ They approved it, and that’s how we ended up [conducting] our first one ever.”
Following the service, Oak Grove UMC will recognize the top animals in five categories: the largest, smallest, most unusual, most talented and the creature who traveled the longest.
For Jones, this service — held a day before the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi — highlights God’s unconditional love for mankind.
“St. Francis of Assisi was the saint who was known for caring for the animals,” Jones said. “There’s all kinds of legends about him going out and the birds just coming up and landing on his hands and all the animals chitchatting in their language back and forth with him. He was a real lover of animals and nature, and they could tell that. So he became a saint of the animals. ... This is the same time that ... St. Francis Day [is held], and that’s the reason for having it on this day.
“[We will] bless the animals that have blessed each of us so much with unconditional love. Our pets demonstrate love in ways that God demonstrates love. We can forget to feed them. We can forget to pet them. We can forget to talk to them. We can forget to take them for a walk, and they will still love us. They will still greet us when we come in, and they’re always glad to see us. That’s the way God is. So it’s a re-emphasizing of God’s unconditional love, but also God said he created humans to be responsible for all of creation, and that includes the care of animals and the Earth.”
Like Church of the Ascension, St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church — 850 Douthit Ferry Road in Cartersville — will continue its long-standing tradition of holding a Blessing of the Animals service. To be conducted at 4:30 p.m., the offering will be followed by Mass at 5 p.m.
“Every year, we do it, because [St. Francis of Assisi] is our patron saint,” said Debi Borgelt, business manager for St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church. “This year, we’re having it on Saturday, [Oct.] 3, at 4:30 p.m. [The purpose is] to bless the animals, because St. Francis had a connection with the animals.
“I think somebody brought a snake one year. Normally, it’s cats and dogs — the normal household pets.”
For all three Bartow services, animals need to be either leashed or crated. In addition to their pets, participants at Oak Grove UMC’s service are encouraged to bring donations for the Etowah Valley Humane Society, including dog and cat beds, clumping litter, clean towels, flea products, collars, dry food and financial contributions. Those attending Church of the Ascension’s service are asked to bring donations of dry cat and dog food, which will be distributed by its food pantry.
For more information, visit Oak Grove UMC’s Facebook page or the websites of Church of the Ascension and St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church at http://www.ascensioncartersville.org or http://www.st-francis-cartersville.org, respectively.