By Wayne Pacelle
On this St. Francis Day, we celebrate the patron saint of animals by acknowledging the hundreds of communities that hold blessings of the animals and other events that highlight our responsibility toward God’s creatures. Not only is the dialogue on animal protection growing in faith communities, but the compassion is evident—and more and more people are putting the words into action year round.
An Oct. 3 pet blessing at Washington National Cathedral in D.C.
In preparation of our new Animal Ministry Guide coming this fall, we discovered many congregations doing amazing work for animals while serving their communities.
In New Orleans, Church of the King provides a free veterinary clinic in its parking lot to serve the area’s low-income residents in need of medical services for their pets; in Minneapolis, the Northeast Community Lutheran Church runs a food bank that includes pet food and hosts a low-cost pet vaccination clinic; in Bethlehem, Penn., Trinity Episcopal Church offers vegetarian options at all church meals; in Summerville, S.C., Dorchester Presbyterian Church preserved 42 acres of God’s creation by creating a wildlife sanctuary, used by the congregation and community for prayer and play. The Animal Ministry Guide has more about these ministries and ideas for everyone—individuals, small groups, and congregations—looking to help animals and serve their communities in a faithful way.
We recently met with pastors on the west side of Chicago, at People’s Church of the Harvest, and scheduled free pet vaccination clinics with several of the local churches. In the next few weeks, we are hosting a clinic with Jonesboro Heights Baptist Church and Shallow Well United Church of Christ, in Sanford, N.C.
Also in the spirit of St. Francis, Laura Hobgood-Oster, professor of religion at Southwestern University, unveils her new book, "The Friends We Keep: Unleashing Christianity’s Compassion for Animals." Dr. Hobgood-Oster looks at tenets of Christianity—kindness and compassion and love—and how that relates to confronting animal suffering.
Earlier this year, I interviewed Dr. Matthew Sleeth, a former emergency room physician who now dedicates his life to faith and environment issues. His book, "The Gospel According to Earth," is a contemporary reflection of St. Francis’ sermons on animals and environment. Regarding Noah, in a chapter on water conservation, Sleeth writes, "Compassion for animals is common among the good guys, but not among the bad ones. One of the surest signs that a biblical figure is a player in God’s redemptive plan is the person’s decency to the beasts of the field. Humane treatment of animals is seen here with Noah and will be repeated by Moses, Rebecca, Laban and a host of others. It is not a coincidence that Christ is referred to as the 'Good Shepherd.'"