St. Matthew’s Anglican Cathedral is holding a special ceremony for four-legged friends in Brandon tonight at 7 p.m.
The Blessing of the Animals is held each year to honour the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, said Dean Don Bernhardt. Last year, the parish was unable to celebrate the occasion together, he said, so he is thrilled they will be able to unite for this year’s special service.
“I’m hoping people will come out with whatever furry, or finned, or scaled friend they have and join us for a blessing,” Bernhardt said.
All funds collected at the Blessing of Animals are in support of Funds for Furry Friends.
“We’ve had a connection with them [Funds for Furry Friends] and our parish ever since they started,” Bernhardt said.
He explained St. Matthew’s has an especially “large soft spot” for the non-profit as the parish adopted one of their very first dogs, Armani, a little cocker spaniel, from the organization.
“She was full of love and we loved her dearly,” Bernhardt said. “The one thing I love about dogs is they have that unconditional love. If you’re having a bad day, they love you, if you’re having a good day, they love you. This is one of the things that St. Francis saw in creation — he saw God in all things. I can see unconditional love in a pet — well, there’s God in that. That’s part of the reason that we do this [Blessing of the Animals].”
Bernhardt has seen dogs, cats, llamas, snakes, rats, horses and everything in between attend services. Pets of any kind can be accommodated, and if an animal is too large to enter the cathedral, he will go outside to them.
St. Francis of Assisi was a 13th-century friar who founded the Franciscan order. He was called to serve God, dedicating himself to being a servant of others.
“He lived a very simple life, a very austere life. It attracted common people, it attracted popes. He was seen as someone who actually lived out the Gospel,” Bernhardt said.
He added part of Francis’ connection to the world was seeing God in all of creation, including animals.
St. Francis died on Oct. 4, and his feast day takes place to commemorate his memory and is commonly celebrated with a Blessing of the Animals service.
Bernhardt said while he speaks to Francis’ connection to animals during the special ceremony, the feast day also serves as a reminder that St. Francis saw God in all people and things, walking alongside the most vulnerable and the most powerful in society.
Unity is an important message right now, as the community cannot physically come together as it once did due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, he said, the need to prevent the spread of the virus has inspired community members to connect in new ways.
“I would encourage people to come. If you have a pet, it doesn’t matter what it is as long as you feel comfortable bringing your pet. It can be in a carrier, on a leash, or you can be holding it, it doesn’t matter,” Bernhardt said. “For those who worry about how their pets will act, it’s been my experience that somehow they always seem to be on their best behaviour.”
St. Matthew’s has been holding worship services on Sundays and Wednesdays when COVID-19 public health measures allow, but special services for the community have been limited and often occurred when gathering numbers were limited to around 10 people.
“This is the first time we’ve been able to have one that’s open to the public and the numbers are not too, too restrictive,” Bernhardt said.
Masks and social distancing will be required during the ceremony. When blessings are received, the animals will move forward one at a time to ensure people are able to safely be called to the front individually from the pews.
The cathedral’s physical space has also been altered to ensure the safety and security of parishioners and more open space has been created in the back to ensure there are no big bunches of people together when entering and leaving the worship space.
“I’m confident that people are going to be protected, and I’m also comfortable that they are going to come in with glad hearts, bringing their best pet friends with them,” Bernhardt said. “We’ll have a great time.”
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Chelsea Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun