Saint Francis of Assisi, Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, New York. © Randy OHC (CC BY 2.0)
St. Francis of Assisi is the patron saint of animals, and his feast day of October 4 is celebrated worldwide by holding pet blessings and similar events throughout the autumn. While Unitarian Universalist congregations may conduct pet blessings, they are not always associated with the celebration of St. Francis. The time around the autumnal equinox, however, is an excellent season to celebrate the importance of animals in our lives, and you don’t have to count on your congregation to conduct a pet-blessing worship service in order to do it.
The Humane Society of the United States has a terrific resource, a St. Francis Day in a Box kit. It includes information on their Fill the Bowl Project to encourage local donations of pet food, a documentary on factory farming (from a Christian perspective) called Eating Mercifully, and KIND News, the Humane Society’s magazine for school-aged children up to grade 6.
It also includes ways families can celebrate wildlife right outside their door. A great family ritual or one-time project would be to examine your yard and outdoor spaces from the perspective of the creatures that inhabit the world with us. While most of us do not intend to damage ecosystems, we do need to learn how to restore some balance and garden with the idea of complimenting the wildlife that is already there and attracting other native plants, insects, and birds that should be there.
Children of many ages will be excited about the idea of growing caterpillars or watching next season as hummingbirds flit from flower to flower instead of hovering around a feeder of sugar water. Educating ourselves about how we affect the animals around us, and making simple changes, is a great way to express our love of the interdependent web and communicate our responsibility to take care of our Earth and all its creatures.
Working in the yard to create a more creature-friendly habitat during the fall shows our children the reality of the cycle of seasons. Even preparing for the return of the spring is an exercise in theology. So bring the kids outside and enlist their help to not only do a fall cleanup around the place, but encourage them to help you build a place where creatures are welcome and even celebrated.
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Michelle Richards is the author of Tending the Flame: The Art of Unitarian Universalist Parenting (Skinner House, 2010).