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