Editor’s note: This article was originally published as “Blessing of the Animals: How to invite your neighborhood into more!” by the Episcopal Diocese of Southwestern Virginia and written by Jenni Faires, Canon for Evangelism and Youth Ministry. The Building Faith Editors are grateful for permission to republish it on Building Faith.
One of the favorite services of the year is the annual Blessing of the Animals in early October.
Our recognition of St. Francis and his care for all things great and small takes us outside of our church walls for a lighthearted and often unpredictable service with our furry friends. It is also a perfect opportunity to invite neighbors and friends to a service at your church.
The Rev. Matt Rhodes of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Forest, VA transformed the traditionally Sunday liturgy into an opportunity to invite the neighborhood into more! Read on to see how the event was pulled off and for ideas to implement in your Blessing of the Animals service.
Step 1 – Plan & Promote
Planning the service
- The event was held on Saturday instead of Sunday and included morning liturgy and drop-in blessings
- St. Francis medallions and prayer cards from the church were prepared to distribute to those in attendance
- Contacts were made with local media outlets to get the word out
- Invited the Bedford Humane Society to bring adoptable pets
Promoting the event
- Flyers inviting community members were distributed locally (vet’s offices, grocery stores, etc.)
- Press release to all local papers
- A short (less than 2 min.) video invitation was posted on the church’s Facebook page
- 5-minute conversation with the local radio station to promote the event
Step 2 – Making It Happen
Pulling It Off
- The service took place on the lawn, with visitors invited to walk the property
- The service was live streamed so those who could not attend could still drop in and receive a blessing for their pet
- Over 40 individuals and families brought animals for a blessing, many not part of the congregation
- Former members who had been disconnected returned for the blessing and have been regularly attending since
- An online-only worshiper came in-person to the blessing
Step 3 – Reflections & Takeaways
- Increased involvement with the Bedford Humane Society: 1) BHS will bring more adoptable pets, 2) BHS will promote the event on their social media channels
- Names and email addresses will be collected at this year’s event for follow up
- Create a photo booth for pictures with pets to be emailed later in the week and/or posted to the church’s social media channels. This provides an easy follow-up opportunity and invitation to visit!
- Promote across platforms (Facebook, Instagram, print) and consider a targeted ad buy for your zip code
- Create postcards for parishioners to hand out to neighbors
- Wear name tags and have greeters milling around
- Offer lemonade and animal themed snacks
Resources for Your Next Event
Check out the resources below to implement at your church’s own Blessing of the
Animals. Special thanks to The Rev. Matt Rhodes for sharing his promotional materials.
Featured image photo is by Sarah Rhodes