People of all faiths love their pets, so it’s not surprising that the Blessing of the Animals for the Feast of St. Francis has become a prime opportunity for community outreach. Here are stories of four creative partnerships with other churches and the wider community.
Two Episcopal churches partnering together
St. Stephen’s, Millburn and Christ Church, Short Hills
This year’s Blessing of the Animals is the first of several planned collaborative events between St. Stephen’s in Millburn, where the Rev. Paula Toland serves as Rector, and Christ Church in Short Hills (a community within Millburn), where the Rev. Bowie Snodgrass serves as Priest-in-Charge.
“From my first conversation with the folks at St. Stephen's, during the search process, they talked about wanting to engage in ministry with the folks at Christ Church,” said Toland.
“Being Church with others is one of the ways they understand their call to live their faith. As I understand it, Bowie has had similar conversations in her congregation. Although Millburn and Short Hills have different zip codes and are, in some ways, very different communities, which is reflected in the parishes, we are technically one township and part of the same Church.
“Bowie and I met a few months ago and decided on a number of collaborative efforts, with the Blessing of the Animals being the first shared community event. Doing God's work together is one way to remind ourselves and others that we all are created to be in relationship.”
Partnering with a different denomination
All Saints Episcopal Parish, Hoboken and St. Matthew Trinity Lutheran, Hoboken
All Saints Episcopal Parish in Hoboken, where the Rev. Elaine Ellis Thomas serves as Rector, is just one block from St. Matthew Trinity Lutheran Church. For the past year or so, Thomas and the Lutheran Pastor, the Rev. Dr. Gary LeCroy, have been holding joint events and liturgies with their congregations including the Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper, the Easter Vigil, a couple of summer Eucharists on the lawn followed by picnics, and now the Blessing of the Animals.
“Neither of us has a huge congregation, and joining forces gives us a nice critical mass for these occasions and is encouraging to those who attend,” said Thomas. “We are committed to this partnership and to finding creative ways to share ministry together here in Hoboken.”
Partnering with an animal shelter
Christ Church, Bloomfield/Glen Ridge
Since 2014, Christ Church in Bloomfield & Glen Ridge has held its Blessing of the Animals service in partnership with PAWS Montclair Animal Shelter.
Parishioner David Drislane, who organizes the event every year, said the partnership began after he and his husband Leo adopted one of their dogs with the help of PAWS. “Caring for God’s creatures is something very important to us, and we wanted to give back and support the good work that PAWS does on behalf of animals in need,” he said.
According to Drislane, the service is held on a Saturday because “Some people might not feel comfortable coming to a worship service on a Sunday, or may worship some other place.”
Before the event, Christ Church collects monetary donations and pet supplies to present to the shelter. This year, the congregation collected more than $350 and provided more than $100 worth of supplies.
According to the Rev. Diana Wilcox, Rector of Christ Church, “Most of the participants are not members of the parish, so it becomes a great way to reach out to the community.”
Partnering with the whole community
Church of the Holy Spirit, Verona
The Church of the Holy Spirit in Verona has held “A Celebration of Pets” in the Verona Town Hall Square for four years. Starting in 2016 with 14 pet-related vendors, this annual town-wide event has more than tripled in size, with 47 vendors and an estimated attendance of 600 to 700 people this year.
Holy Spirit was inspired by St. John’s, Boonton, which offers pet blessings at their town’s First Friday street fair in October. The planning for the Verona event takes place all year, with Parish Administrator Catherine Tamasik and clergy spouse Randy Johnson reaching out to pet-related organizations and businesses.
This year a generous grant from the Investors Bank Foundation made it possible to expand the children’s activities and helped cover some marketing expenses previously paid for by the Church’s operating budget. One vendor that has participated since the first event donated the cost of renting a bounce house, which was a hugely popular stop in the town square.
The event included music from a DJ, a food truck, demonstrations of dog obedience and agility, and a Pet Parade led by the local high school “Paws and Claws” group. Holy Spirit sold baked goods (for humans) prepared by parishioners. There were six pet adoption agencies onsite, most with pets available to greet. Three adoptions occurred and many discussions about possible adoptions took place.
At the animal blessing tent, more than 200 dogs received blessings from the Rev. Jerry Racioppi, Rector of Holy Spirit, and the Rev. Michael Muller, Priest-in-Charge at St. Peter’s, Essex Fells, after which each human received a certificate with the pet’s name.
Several partnerships have developed through this event, such as Racioppi being invited to offer pet blessings at a veterinary clinic’s fall festival.
Said Racioppi, “The event embodied community and celebrated all of God’s creatures in a fun and energizing way.”
Includes photos from the four stories above, with additional photos from St. Bartholomew's, Ho-Ho-Kus and Trinity Church, Bayonne. St. Bartholomew's Blessing of the Animals received media coverage with a photo gallery published by northjersey.com.