At 10:30 a.m. on August 6, some members of the congregation at Whitehorse United Church had whiskers, a tail and four legs!
This is because the first Sunday in August was the Blessing of the Animals service. Blessing of the Animals is a service customary across all United Churches in Canada. Though different churches host it on different Sundays, they all follow the same theme: all are welcome. From lizards to geckos, to cats and dogs, to fish and hamsters no animal gets turned away.
For animals that couldn’t make it, people brought in photos of their pets and children brought their stuffed animals toys to receive a blessing.
After the opening hymns, which all had an animal focus, the people and their pets formed a line down the church aisle. At the front was Whitehorse United Church Minister Rev. Bev Brazier. She placed her hands on the animals and said a blessing. It’s as simple as that.
The Blessing of the Animals service is not a new occasion. It’s been over a decade since Whitehorse United Church first opened its doors – like Noah’s ark – to animals of all kind. The service originally took place outside. But it was raining one year and in came the animals and it went off without a hitch. So, the service has been indoors ever since.
According to Sue Kemmett, a long-time member of the congregation who helps organize the Blessing of the Animals service, there are normally 20 animals that come each year.
Miraculously, I was also informed that there’s never been a single fight or accident with the animals. There are epic legends of usually-rowdy animals coming to the service only to be perfectly calm upon entering the church.
Whitehorse United Church takes several practicalities into account for the service. There are bowls of water located around the church, and shy pets are allowed to come in earlier to get familiar with the area before it gets loud. And along with the standard Sunday bulletin all guests receive a “Saintly Savoury” dog treat!
Now comes the why part of the equation. Why does the Whitehorse United Church annually turn their Sunday service into a zoo? I have never brought a pet to the service, so furthermore, I wondered, why do people bring their pets?
Brazier said the the answer is simply in comfort – that there is a comfort in knowing that our pets are loved. It’s not the easiest thing to wrestle your dogs into the car on a Sunday morning, then worry about them in a public building, but people still do it.
And it’s a celebration. A celebration for the animals that play such a loving and integral part of our lives.
A specific date has not been set for the next service, but the next Blessing of the Animals Service will be held in August 2018.