Convention calls for new rites, prayers for care of beloved animals

By Sharon Sheridan
Posted Jul 12, 2012

Darla Schumm of Roanoke, Virginia, who is visually impaired and attended General Convention as a visitor with her guide dog Chloe. Photo/Sharon Sheridan

[Episcopal News Service — Indianapolis] General Convention has approved new rites and prayers for the care of beloved animals in passing Resolution A054 on July 12.

The Prayer Book, Liturgy and Church Music Committee had heard impassioned testimony about the need for the animal liturgies. The resolution recommends the liturgies be made available “for use in a variety of settings to provide pastorally for people caring for animals,” and the committee revised the format to make it easier for worshipers to use at home.

“We really feel it’s important to try to get something to the houses to decide about this because not only was there moving testimony to this committee at this General Convention but also to the previous General Convention,” said the Rev. Ruth Kirk, deputy of the Diocese of Delaware. “Not everyone feels skilled to create the liturgy for Fluffy in their backyard.”

Rites for times of transition – when a companion animal dies or retires – will be especially helpful, said Darla Schumm of Roanoke, Virginia, who is visually impaired and attended General Convention as a visitor with her guide dog Chloe. Her dog attends church with her, and “it is a loss for the whole community when a companion animal dies or is retired.”

During debate in the House of Bishops, Mississippi Bishop Duncan Gray asked why there was a call to authorize such rites.

“There has been a steady, dare I say, unrelenting call for rites like these,” said Bishop George Wayne Smith of Missouri, chair of the legislative committee.

“I’m a convert about this stuff,” said Bishop Jeffrey Lee of Chicago, another committee member. “Part of the reason for providing something is because of … the wide range of materials that were presented to us in use out there, and we wanted to something that was responsible.”

The bishops changed the resolution’s wording to make the materials available rather than to “authorize” them.

“That seemed like a friendly amendment to me and will be well received by the animals of the Episcopal Church,” said the Rev. Lowell Grisham of Arkansas, deputy committee chair.

The bishops’ debate had some lighthearted moments, with Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, a former oceanographer, commenting, “I’m glad to see the whales made it in,” and Bishop C. Franklin Brookhart Jr. of Montana telling the house, “No one loves his dog more than I.”

The convention referred proposed Liturgical Materials Honoring God in Creation (Resolution A053) to the SCLM for additional work before the next General Convention.

— Sharon Sheridan is a member of the Episcopal News Service team at General Convention. The Rev. Pat McCaughan, also part of the news team, contributed to this article.


Comments (21)

  1. When will these rites be available for review by everyone? Thanks.

  2. Edgar Wallace says:

    I hope these liturgies are not too ‘high church’. I think my Welsh Terrier rather leans toward Calvinistic Methodism.

    1. Nellwyn Beamon says:

      Yes, and I have a Scotty. Wonder where he falls into the mix?

  3. Ann Tucker says:

    Animal liturgies are far more important to people than may first seem apparent. It would help to bring closure for friends and family members. The loss of a pet can bring back all the losses one has experienced and in some cases is the person’s closest friend. A patient died recently and her only last wish was a promise that a good home would be found for her cat. People go into therapy over the loss of a pet. I remember while a counselor at a church camp a member of the clergy quite admantly taught that animals do not have souls and therefore …. All the campers were in tears in the cabins that night. Thank you for your work on this issue.

  4. martha knight says:

    Establishing rites in the church for pet owners and their beloved pets is long deserved; as the only generalized observance is on the feast day of my beloved saint, St. Francis of Assisi. Thank you!

  5. Robert Nagy says:

    This is tremendously great news. Our beloved pets are welcome to attend any and all of our corporate worship, including celebrations of the Holy Eucharist, Morning & Evening Prayer, weddings, and funerals. We invite their adult companions to bring their pets to the altar for a blessing when they come for communion. And, of course, while we honor all animals on the first Saturday every October as we commemorate Saint Francis of Assisi, we also recognize the importance of these animals throughout the year in many ways. We help to provide food for the beloved pets of senior citizens who are having financial challenges. A variety of ways to liturgically acknowledge our beloved animals will be gratefully received. Many thx!

    1. Sharon Weiser says:

      What is the name/location of your gloriously progressive church? i bring my dog to church weekly as a therapy dog. He is part of the Dogs 4 God ministry and also says hands on prayers with me as part of the healing ministry.

  6. Lynn K Barker+ says:

    The materials are already available at the website under “current status of all resolutions” at A054. Thank you for such a good write-up. I would just tweak it this way: it sounds here as if Bishop Gray were asking “why does this matter?” I believe (and I will ask him) that he was saying, “why does this require our ‘authorization’?” –that seems to have been a sticking word. (He did not add: I’ve already got a priest who buries horses.) I believe he helped the conversation go to the amendment of “authorize” to “make available,” thus allowing it to pass. Thank you, my bishop.

    1. The Rev. Carlton T. Russell says:

      Dear Lynn K. Barker:

      Presumably my failure. . . but I can’t find the animal rites on the General Convention website.

      Thanks for any help you can give this computer ignoramus!

      Thanks and blessings,
      Carlton Russell+

  7. Julie Kaufman says:

    I’m all for liturgies regarding well-beloved pets and service animals. I note the irony that this initiative had relatively smooth sailing. Too bad that when it comes to loving relationships between and among people of the same gender, the response is to study the issue for more than a decade, quote Scripture left and right, and imagine what Jesus might have said to prohibit such a thing. Did Jesus endorse this? Do animals have souls? Does it matter? No.

  8. Louis Bower-Bannister says:

    Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

    My beloved Labrador, Iris, is not only my beloved, but also the beloved of three parishes where we have had ministry. She is not a service dog, but has been able to live her life as a lady of leisure. She has been on hand at work with me in the sacristy in my role as Sacristan, she has been at work with me in my work as Parish Administrator, she has been with me in the work room in my role a ‘Canon’ Florist, she has assisted me in the guiding of tours and even has served as ‘pastoral pooch’ to people who have sought out the church as a place to pray and meditate. She has also been referred to as the Head Verger, my simply being the Verger.

    Iris, who will turn 18 years old on 20 August (yes, really!), will certainly be greatly missed by an entire community of people, many of whom have suggested to me that, when the dreaded time comes, that she should certainly have some sort of service. Every year at the Blessing of the Animals there is a hint of recognition in her eyes as we go through the motions, as she has done it before, with this October’s, God willing, being the 19th!

    (She even has her own Facebook Page that was begun for her when we were relocating and people wanted to be sure to keep in touch with her.

    I wish not to enter here into the debate about whether or not animals have souls, although I am sure that you might be able to figure out my opinion on that issue, but I will say that the least we can do for an animal who has not only trusted us with their care and loved us unconditionally with every fiber of their being is to honor their lives when they come to an end.

    Amen. Bow Wow.

  9. Sharon Weiser says:

    I am so delighted that this resolution is now part of our practices. Many people regard their animal friend as their best friend. These animals provide comfort to lonely people, unconditional love, joy, laughter, and peace to all those that love and care for them. I have had three therapy dogs over the past 20 years. I currently take my Sheltie to a comprehensive hospital in Pasadena, CA to provide comfort to patients in oncology and mental health. I am also very fortunate to belong to a wonderful church that allows me to bring him to church before going to the hospital to visit. He and I are part of the hands-on prayer ministry. This fabulous church is All Saints, Pasadena, CA.

    1. Jan Hunt says:

      To those who don’t believe that our pets should have the benefit of a service when they pass. SHAME ON YOU. 16 years ago when my beloved beagle HOLLY passed on, the priest in our very rural Church offered to give her a fitting buriel. He created a special ritual and she was properly buried in a rural PA pet cemetary. Everyone might want to read “The rainbow Bridge” we will all meet again on that bridge where there is no pain,hunger and lonliness only smiles, joy, sloppy kisses and big beautiful eyes welcoming us. God bless each and everyone who supports the need for ritiual at a pets death. Again SHAME on those of you who don’t

  10. Allen Clark says:

    I wrote and submitted the following prayer to my church in Rye, NY, for use in its Blessing of the Animals services. I wrote it because I hoped that a future prayer book might include it, since ther are no prayers for animals, despite there being a whole array of prayers for all kinds of conditions of our lives and our universe. I offer it here to any other church that might find it useful and appropriate.

    Dear God, help us appreciate all living creatures – domestic and wild.  Help us recognize their
    uniqueness, purpose and presence and their contribution to the beauty of our world and your creative vision. We especially ask your guidance in how we treat all animals, always with kindness and understanding.  With your help, may we understand our role – all humankind – as part of a harmonious world.


  11. michele wilkins-hallmark says:

    I never loved animals before until I met my husband, I was kinda of afraid of them. He brought all these animals into my life and now I don’t know what i would do without them. All the dogs we have had and have are such good friends. We didn’t have a regular prayer for our pets. We just said the Lord’s Prayer and thanked God for them. I love cats too. Could you please send me some animal prayers? Love, your sister in Christ and animal lover, michele wilkins-hallmark

  12. Dot Cellini says:

    This is indeed a wonderful work. As someone who has had the pleasure of companion animals for many years, the passing of one is a traumatic loss. Having liturgies available at such a time is a great blessing. My cats have demonstrated God’s unconditional love over the years. Currently we often pray together and I thank God for the gift of their presence in my life.

  13. Carol Larson says:

    We’ve been having pet funerals forever. I’m 68 and we had them when I was a child; my children celebrated their pets with neighborhood funerals until they grew up. Actually, now that we are all grown up, we still do it. We recently buried a beloved cat, and one more is “in transition.” It’s nice to know that their “souls” are recognized by a mainstream church. Thank you.

  14. Vivian Varela says:

    I am very happy about this. Just before convention a friend of mine who is not Episcopalian asked me to pray with her because she had to put her beloved cat down. This is a blessing for our family, friends and beloved pets

  15. astral stone says:

    I dont see why burying a pet is a problem. We have been doing it for ages. What is wrong with giving a pet who has been with you for 10yrs a proper burial? Every household in my family has buried a pet. It’s good for both the children and the adults.

  16. Wendy Beckers says:

    Though I have never purchased a pet, I have paid a small fortune in adoption fees. My first pet was not-so-handsome stray who was roaming the streets in the small mill town in East Texas where I was born. He attached himself to me and that was the beginning of many wonderful friends who just happened to have four legs. I wanted to name him “Frank” because I adored my Uncle Frank. My mother would not let me, saying that it would be insulting to my uncle. So I named him Frankenstein. My uncle felt honored that I wanted to name my first pet for him. Through the years of being a member and Parish Administrator of St. Mark’s in San Marcos, I have been pleased to have met so many Priests who not only are willing to honor our pets; but, who have encouraged it. When my long time four-legged friend, Charlie, died Fr. Bruce offered to help me bury him and to provide a proper service of blessing him and thanking God for the joy Charlie had given many people. Charlie had become part of the staff and helped make a those who came with a question, a problem, or a disaster feel more comfortable when they came to St. Mark’s seeking answers, encouragement or assistance. I am delighted to see the progressiveness of the Episcopal Church concerning our pets.

  17. Rachel Johnson-Pattison says:

    Almost 100 years ago, my mother wrote a story about a boy’s question: Did his dog have a soul?

    A kindly family gardener told him “YES”, and I absolutely agree. How could any sentient creature NOT have a soul? Humans ARE animals, and we claim to have souls. John Steinbeck wrote, “Everything that breathes is Holy.” AMEN, AMEN, AMEN.

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