Tips for Blessing of the Animals

St. Francis Day Survival Guide – Practical Tips for Animal Blessings

petting goatMany churches and faith communities offer animal blessing ceremonies. St. Francis Day (October 4th) is a common date around which these events are held. If your church is offering a blessing of the animals – or if you are interested in starting one – take a look at these 11 tips.

1. Start small
These events can build over time. If you decide to make it a signature event, start publicizing with flyers and invitations. Have parishioners give them to friends, neighbors, or anyone they see walking a dog.  This is a great, low pressure way for people to invite others to church.

2. Recognize departed pets
Include a prayer for animals who have died.  This tip comes from a post by The Rev. Dr. Victoria Weinstein.

3. Remember the necessities
If your event is outside, provide shade, water, and designated areas for animals to do their business.  These tips come from the 10 commandments of animal blessings.

4. Bless them in the church – go for it!
Crazy right? C’mon, consider holding the blessing inside the church. Fr. Marty Zlatic is the rector at St. Joseph’s in Boyton Beach, Florida, which hosts one of the largest and well organized blessings events in the country.

Marty explains, “The novelty of animals in church itself draws people to the event.  For the first years I was here, the volunteers always covered all the floors with dropcloths that were taped down.  It created a walking health hazard for the humans.  I asked how many pet ‘accidents’ we had in previous years, and no one could remember any.  We stopped doing that 10 years ago, and have had very few accidents.  We have to get the carpets cleaned periodically anyway – so we just schedule the cleaning right after the event.”

5. Give out certificates 
People really do appreciate something to mark and remember the occasion.  They will save it for many years!
Here is a sample certificate: Blessing of Animals certificate

Note: at St. Joseph’s they don’t give out the certificate on that day. Rather, people fill out a form with name and address, and the church then mails the certificates to them.  (The bonus, a ready made mailing list with which to publicize future events!)

6. Offer St. Francis medals
This site offers the best medals I have found, and the price is very good. St. Francis Medals. I ordered 100, and they came in about a week – they are terrific.  St. Francis is on one side, with “pray for us” on the back. You can tie each medal onto a small piece of ribbon; that way, people can attach them to a pet collar.

7. Add something extra – special guests
People will come to have their own pets blessed, but “special guests” can increase attendance and lead to great publicity.  Some examples of whom to invite:

  • Local pet shelter (have them bring animals available for adoption, ask your congregation to donate needed supplies)
  • Police K-9 department or other service dogs
  • Police mounted division (!)
  • Area veterinarians

8. Solidify a strong group of volunteers 
Consider making volunteer T-shirts or badges to designate them. Some volunteer tasks:

  • Extra greeters in the parking lot and at church entrances to welcome and direct guests
  • Someone to take pictures
  • Someone to hand out medals, certificates, or forms for certificates
  • Multiple “traffic control” volunteers to keep things moving and organized

9. Invite the local press
Newspapers love getting shots of animals and community members. What better way to have your church end up on the front page?

10. Offer a nice clear bulletin
If you are printing a bulletin, make it clear and easy to follow. The following is from Bethesda by the Sea in Southeast Florida.
Sample St. Francis Bulletin
(Note that this document is for sample use only. You must have your own permissions to print copyrighted music.)

 11. Focus on the BLESSING
With all these details, don’t lose sight of the reason why people come: that moment when a pet is blessed in the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Make sure there is enough time, enough room, and enough clergy to make each blessing special.

Of course, every clergy person has different notions of how and why to bless. For many, it is about blessing the whole relationship of pet and owner, as well as the household which nurtures that relationship. Within the context of your community, and in keeping with your theology, decide how best to articulate your blessing…and go for it!

List of Advent Family Activities

CHECK OUT THIS AWESOME LIST OF SUGGESTIONS FOR                                   ADVENT FAMILY FUN!

The Ultimate Advent Activity List for Families – from www.themommyhoodmemos.com

Serving others:

1. Shop for a gift to put under the Tree of Joy (or another charity).

2. Fill a shoe box for Operation Christmas Child.

3. Visit an elderly home and hand out homemade cookies.

4. Take a few small gifts to a shelter for women and children.

5. Write a letter to a family friend or some troops stationed overseas.

6. Drive to a store that has a Salvation Army bell ringer just to donate (without going into the store to buy anything!).

7. Buy a small gift for a child in the long-term care wing of the children’s ward, and bring a bouquet of flowers for his/her mother.

8. Serve a meal together as a family at a local homeless shelter.

9. Clean out your toy boxes and donate good quality items to an opportunity store.

10. Raid the pantry for canned goods to donate to a charity.

11. Take a plate of cookies and a homemade Christmas card to your doctor’s office, library, church office, and/or dentist office.

12. Anonymously pay for the Santa photos of the person behind you in line at the mall.

13. Wear Santa hats and take some doggie treats to your local shelter.

14. If you go to the woods to chop a Christmas tree, buy an extra license and bring one home for a neighbor who may not have the resources to get their own.

15. Wear Santa hats and take a garbage bag to clean up garbage from your neighborhood .

In the kitchen:

16. Make Christmas cookies.

17. Serve a red and green themed meal.

18. Make homemade caramel corn.

19. Make chocolate-dipped pretzels with red and green sprinkles.

20. Eat “reindeer droppings” for breakfast (donut holes!).

21. Make gingerbread cookies.

22. Make edible Christmas trees out of up-side-down ice cream cones, green frosting, and sprinkles.

23. Make snicker doodles.

24. Decorate a gingerbread (or graham cracker) house.

25. Invite a few friends over for a cookie decorating party.

26. Melt chocolate into Christmas molds.

Faith-based activities:

27. Visit a “live” nativity scene.

28. Go to a candlelight church service.

29. Read the Christmas story in the Bible.

30. Make and decorate a birthday cake for Jesus.

31. Spend time on your bellies playing with the family nativity scene and acting out the story.

32. Cut your lunch sandwiches into the shape of stars and talk about the original Christmas star.

33. Write a letter to Jesus, thanking him for the gifts you received throughout the year.

34. Attend Christmas Eve Mass at a beautiful cathedral.

35. Make a manger with twigs you collect from outside and talk about Baby Jesus and the type of place he was born into.

36. Make paper crowns and talk about the wise men and the gifts they brought Jesus.

37. Visit a local farm and talk about what it must have been like for Mary and Joseph to have a baby in a stable.

38. Read one story from the Jesus Storybook Bible each day starting December 1st.

39. Use “The Truth in the Tinsel” – an Advent experience for little hands.

40. Use “What God Wants for Christmas” – Christmas in their hands, in their hearts, and out of the box.

Decorating:

41. Decorate the tree.

42. Deck the halls with boughs of holly.

43. String a popcorn garland for the tree.

44. Make origami ornaments for the tree.

45. Decorate a wreath together.

46. Hang some mistletoe and give out kisses.

47. Make a paper garland to hang on the tree, over a door, or in the kids bedroom.

48. Decorate the windows with spray snow.

Outings:

49. Cut or pick a Christmas tree.

50. Visit a few friends’ houses to sing Christmas carols and hand out candy canes.

51. Hop in the car in your jammies and drive around to look at the Christmas lights.

52. Visit Santa for photos.

53. Attend a Christmas parade (or watch on TV/YouTube).

54. Watch the Nutcracker Ballet on stage (or on DVD).

55. Go to a tree-lighting ceremony.

56. Attend a Christmas concert.

57. Check out books from the library about how people celebrate Christmas in other nations.

58. Attend a holiday craft bazaar with grandma.

Craft and create:

59. Write (or color on) Christmas cards.

60. Decorate a Christmas card for your teacher, Sunday School teacher, or favorite babysitter.

61. Make a handmade Christmas ornament for someone else in the family.

62. Color a Christmas picture or make a Christmas craft.

63. Make paper snowflakes to hang from the kids’ bedroom ceiling.

64. Write letters to Santa.

65. Make and mail a Christmas card to a family member or friend who lives in another state or country.

66. Make a silly Christmas video to email to friends (or post on facebook) on Christmas day.

67. Make (or draw inside) thank you cards that are ready to be filled out after Christmas.

68. Make thumbprint snowmen.

69. Make homemade play dough in red and green.

70. Make play dough snowmen.

71. Make a video of each family member singing their favorite Christmas song.

72. Make glitter snow globes out of baby food jars. (Secure the lids with a hot glue gun!)

73. Paint pinecones to make a centerpiece for the table or to display in a clear vase or string on a bunting.

74. Make a bouquet of poinsettias out of felt or construction paper and pipe cleaners.

75. Make a pinecone bird feeder and attach a little note that says, “Merry Christmas birdies!”

Fun at home:

76. Have a living room dance party to a fun Christmas album.

77. Let everyone in the family choose a country and then google to see how they celebrate Christmas there.

78. Unwrap and read a new Christmas book.

79. Wrap grandma and grandpa’s gifts.

80. Pull out mattresses and have a family slumber party under the tree.

81. Have a family story night and read all your Christmas storybooks while enjoying a plate of cookies and milk.

82. Snuggle up in mom and dad’s bed and read The Night Before Christmas.

83. Have a funny Christmas photo shoot (80’s Christmas sweaters?!).

84. Make popcorn and watch home movies from the year.

85. Choose your favorite photos for a family year book.

86. Make some personal and family New Years goals.

87. Wrap daddy’s gift with mommy (or mommy’s gift with daddy).

88. Wrap up your holiday books for the kids to open and read together as a family (include one new book for the year).

89. Read Elf on the Shelf (and let the fun begin!).

90. Make a “pillow bed” on the living room floor and watch some classic Christmas cartoons (Rudolf, Frosty, etc.) together.

91. Send a small Christmas care package to a missionary or foreign exchange student.

92. Give each family member a shoe box and tell them to collect and fill it with red and green things from around the house or yard.

93. YouTube funny Christmas caroling videos together.

94. Use only Christmas mugs for all of your drinks for an entire day.

95. Draw the kids a bubble bath by candle-light with Christmas tunes playing on the stereo.

96. Interview each family member on video asking a short list of questions (favorite memory from the year, etc.).

97. Celebrate Saint Nicolas Day (December 6th) by doing a secret act of kindness.

98. Let each child choose a friend to invite over for a Christmas-themed morning tea.

99. Draw names and write a love note for a family member. Leave them out on Christmas Eve for Santa to distribute into their stocking.

100. Have a “fancy dress” code for dinner one night.

101. Check your shoes on Saint Nicolas Day – December 6th. [Leave the kids a few pieces of candy.]

102. “Help” dad put up the outdoor Christmas lights.

103. Write a “new” Christmas carol, personalizing (re-writing) the words to one of your favorites.

104. Invite another family to come over in their jammies to watch a favorite Christmas movie and share a favorite Christmas treat.

105. Get out a Christmas songbook and sing a few carols before nap time and bed time. (We actually do this for the entire month, but thought I’d include it for families who are a bit less gung-ho about the all-month caroling. Ha!)

Winter-specific activities:

106. Make snow angels.

107. Go sledding.

108. Build a snowman together.

109. Get bundled up and go ice skating.

110. Have hot chocolate and candy canes.

111. Make hot apple cider.

112. Bundle up and go on a sleigh ride.

113. Make eggnog.

114. Have a snowball fight.

115. Roast marshmallows inside over the fireplace.

116. Make snow cones out of real snow.

Summer-specific activities:

117. Make sand angels.

118. Take a wagon ride or bike ride after dark around a neighborhood that’s known for lots of Christmas lights.

119. Have fish and chips on the beach.

120. Play backyard cricket.

121. Stay up past bedtime and go swimming after dark.

122. Spread out blankets in the yard and do some star-gazing.

123. Have a fondue night with summer fruit and chocolate.

124. Go for a wagon ride with Santa hats and squirt guns.

125. Roast marshmallows outside over a bonfire.

126. Make root beer or coke floats.

127. Go out for snow cones (or ice cream cones).

128. Have a red and green themed BBQ.

129. Go for a “moon walk” in your jammies.

130. Go to the beach and use shaving cream to make Santa beards on each other before jumping in for a swim.

131. Attend “Carols by Candlelight” in the park.

132. Wear your swimmers for an outdoor bubble bath in the wading pool.

133. Take a family bike ride with Santa hats on.

Watch your favorite Christmas movies:

134. Miracle on 34th Street (Definitely the original… but in color for the kiddos.)

135. White Christmas

136. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (I prefer the original cartoon version!)

137. Charlie Brown’s Christmas

138. It’s a Wonderful Life

139. The Nativity Story

140. Elf

141. Home Alone

142. The Muppet Christmas Carol

143. The Nutcracker Ballet

144. The Polar Express

145. Mickey’s Christmas Carol

146. National Lampoons Christmas Vacation

147. The Christmas Story

148. A Christmas Carol (the Jim Carrey version)

149. The Snowman

150. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer & the other cartoon classics

 

 

Biblical Reflections – Fear not! by Brian K. Blount

Posted from the Advocate – a journal of the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators

Brian K. Blount is President and Professor of New Testament at Union Presbyterian Seminary, Richmond, VA, and Charlotte, NC.   He was called to this position in 2007, after serving for 15 years as the Richard J. Dearborn Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Princeton Theological Seminary.

Professor Blount’s primary work has been in the Gospel of Mark, the Book of Revelation, and in the area of cultural studies and hermeneutics. He is the author of six books.

Fear not!

Yeah, right. Good advice. Unrealistic expectation. There is simply too much of which we are and, really, should be afraid. Even with God around. It is easy to check, you know. One needs neither Greek nor Hebrew. A quick search of a good English translation of the Old and New Testaments suffices. In the NRSV, “fear” erupts some 303 times. The people who populate God’s narratives are “afraid”189 more times. And 51 additional times they are flat out terrified.

One might expect a little less courage in the Old Testament, given all the wars and conquests and enslavements and plagues and catastrophes, institutional and personal, and the distance from which God observes it all. God’s voice makes occasional appearances, and God’s prophets make potent points, but God operates remotely. The things that cause us to fear operate up close and personal.

In the New Testament, though, God, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, steps across the transcendent divide and takes up residence in human history. Because he is right here with us, Immanuel, one would think that fear would be overwhelmed by faith. Nothing doing. From the very opening moment of the Jesus story, the Incarnation, fear not only exists but is ratcheted up. Joseph is afraid. Zechariah is afraid. Zechariah’s neighbors are afraid. Shepherds in the fields, routinely keeping watch over their flocks by night, are afraid. Even Mary is afraid. Life, and the circumstances that attend it—the presence of God notwithstanding, apparently, even biblically—make(s) us afraid. Harboring fear, or perhaps better said, being harbored by fear is apparently a natural part of what it is to be a human person, even a person of faith.

We should therefore not be surprised that in Isaiah 44 the people of God are frightened. Neither, I suppose, given the frightful context of Mark 4:35-41, should we be shocked that the twelve men Jesus chose to be closest to him are afraid. Isaiah’s people fear the loss of national identity; Jesus’ men fear the loss of their individual lives. In both cases, the fearful are told to fear not. In Isaiah, God tells them through the prophet; in the gospel of Mark, Jesus tells them directly.

The problem—the reason why, when each reading ends, I get the feeling that the people of Israel and the disciples of Jesus are still afraid—is that God wants us to focus on God, and we are determined to focus on us. Jacob, God’s collective servant, should not be afraid of the horrendous historical circumstances, because God is God and God has proclaimed from of old that God will provide for, protect, and prosper God’s people. In this time of difficulty, though, with God so distant and the problems so immediate, the people lose focus on what God has promised and fixate on what history is unleashing. Driven by fear, they craft idol gods whom they hope can remedy the historical situation from which the transcendent God appears too distant. No wonder God, through the prophet, is forced to remind the people that there is no other god. There is one rock that provides stability in time of storm. It is upon this rock that Jacob should stand his ground.

In the same way, Jesus’ disciples should not be afraid of the storm that comes upon them suddenly and threatens to swamp and ultimately drown them—because Jesus, who has healed and exorcised with a power that emanates directly from God, is immediately present with them. Driven by fear, though, they lash out at him, frightened that they will soon die outside the orbit of his concern. No wonder Jesus speaks so sternly to them. This man who calms wind and wave is the same one who called them into his service and promises, through their participation in that service, to bring them closer to the in-breaking reign of God.

As we gather in Baltimore at the dawn of a new year, we, like the people of Israel and the disciples of Jesus, will be called, in the midst of the challenges that confront APCE and the difficulties that beset the role and function of Christian Education, to focus on God rather than on us. God has both purpose and power. We are called to be faithful to that purpose and to trust in God’s power to accomplish that purpose. Should we refuse to look to God—as the people of Israel chose to look to strategic devices of their own making and the disciples chose to look to the wind and the waves—we will know and perhaps even become incapacitated by fear.

We will challenge each other to look instead to the Rock, who is the God of Jacob, and to the Son, who holds the Father’s power to flatten wave and hush wind. It is only when we are rightly focused, on God and God with Us, that, when confronted by a situation of alarm and dread, instead of snickering in derision, we can nod with resolute determination when we hear the words, “Fear not.”

Ladder and Angels

Jacob’s Ladder Ascending Angel Craft and Prayer Activity

 
The story of Jacob’s ladder in Genesis 28 (vv 10-17) is one of my favourites and this is a creative way to pray about the story’s themes using an easy but effective craft.

Tell the story of Jacob’s ladder and think about the theme of God’s closeness to Jacob, even when Jacob, himself, didn’t at first realise it.  

Talk about: How do you think Jacob felt when he saw the ladder and the angels? How would you have felt?Have you ever felt or known that God is with you? Do you have anywhere where you feel close to God? How do you know that God is with you?  Do you know anyone who might like to know that God is with them, caring for them?

Craft- You will need: paper, scissors, pens, string, sellotape, straws and a coin

Get children to cut an angel shape out of the paper (or provide them with a pre-cut version).  Cut 2x 2cm pieces of straw and sellotape them to the angel shape as shown below.  Make sure they are parallel to each other. Sellotape a coin to the bottom of the angel to give it some weight (I used a 2p coin here).  Thread string through the straw as shown.

Anchor the string to a coat hook or a nail on the wall- something static, strong and above head height if possible!  Bring the angel to the bottom of the strings and hold each end in a separate hand.  Spread your hands out so that they are wider than the parallel straws and pull on the strings.  The angel should rise up towards the anchor point.  Release the tension on the strings and the angel should descend.  Have fun testing this out!

Prayer
Write the names of people who you would like to know that God is close to them- perhaps people who are having a hard time or who don’t know about God yet.  As you pull the angel up and down the string, pray that God will bless them and they will know His closeness, just as Jacob did in the story!