Animal blessing to take over church

Reverend John Hebenton with his own special pet ‘Muffy’ the dog. Photo: John Borren.

Don’t be surprised if you end up sharing a pew with a dog, a cat or even a budgie at St George’s Anglican Church this Sunday.

Reverend John Hebenton’s church is hosting its annual SPCA Animal Blessing ceremony at 10am on November 19. “Pets are important in people’s lives,” says John.

As such, the Reverend invites everyone to “unite with families, canines, and other creatures – great and small – for the special opportunity to have your pets blessed as we celebrate and give thanks for our companion animals and recognise the life of the patron saint of animals, Saint Francis of Assisi.”

John has blessed dogs – “bazillions of dogs from tiny to extremely large!” He’s also blessed cats –mostly people bring photos of their felines  – plus rabbits, mice, rats, guinea pigs, birds – such as budgies, parrots, cockatiels – some slugs and snails, fish, horses, donkeys, goats and pigs.

“The kids are very excited to get their pets blessed,” says John.

“It is about acknowledging that our world is created by God and is a gift – and we are invited, as God’s people, to live in this world in a way that allows every creation to thrive.”

All pets are welcome this Sunday, but John says: “Dogs must come on leashes, cats in cages, birds in cages, bigger animals [goats, donkeys, pigs etc] outside on leads.”

If your pet not comfortable with other animals, bring a photo of your pet to be blessed instead.

“If people don’t have a pet – bring a picture of their favourite animal, or a picture of an endangered species that we could then acknowledge and pray for.”

John gets everyone involved in the special service. “I put words on the screens on either sides of the church and everyone says the words, and we bring up the animals in clumps...I will then go to each animal and bless them. The animals do join in with singing – a few of them like to bark away.”

John says the service provides a space “to give thanks for the world we live in, give thanks for the animals, including the animals that we eat, but also to sustain life”.

“We are in a web of life which is intricate and delicate – and, our life depends on that web of life just as every other animals life depends on it or any other plant,” says John. “We have a place on that web, an important place, and at the moment we are pretty destructive of our place and so we need to acknowledge that.”

The church has been conducting the animal blessing service since 2005 in partnership with the SPCA. “We’ve run them every year except for 2021 because the Covid-19 restrictions didn’t allow.”

The non-denominational pet blessing service begins 10am Sunday, November 19, at St George's Anglican Church, 1 Church St, Gate Pa. A collection will be taken for the work of SPCA, with morning tea served following the service.

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