One of the things I love about LSTC (and Chicago in general) is how welcome pets are in the community. I'd estimate that over half of the student population has a pet of some kind, be it a dog, cat, rat, fish, or one of those leafy green ones that sits in a pot all day. When walking between the school and our apartment, it's pretty much a given that we'll cross paths with someone we know, and it's almost as likely that we'll see a fellow classmate walking her or his dog. My wife, Andrea, and I had wanted a dog since the day we got married, and LSTC was the first place we lived that allowed pets. So, naturally we got our scruffy little mutt the day before classes started my Junior year. Rufus has definitely brightened up our lives, and though it seems silly, he really is a part of the family.
When we heard that LSTC commemorates St. Francis of Assisi's day with an animal blessing, we were so excited. Our home church in Fort Wayne does this, and we were a little disappointed that we'd be missing it when we finally had a pet of our own, and so this service was yet another way that life at LSTC began to feel more like home for us. At this year's service, which happened this past Thursday, we had plenty of dogs and one fish. Dr. Adam preached theologically and historically on our connection to animals and God as our canine companions barked the occasional "Amen!" The animals all came forward, then, to receive prayers of blessing, that they may live joyfully with the humans who are blessed by their companionship.
Aside from the novelty of being able to bring your pet to church, aside from the hilarity that ensues when dogs prefer to socialize instead of listen to the sermon, and aside from the barking, howling, and yowling that pets add to the community's music, there's good reason for marking this occasion at least once a year.
The good reason is clearly bow-ties.
Sure, St. Francis isn't the only saint associated with animals, but choosing his day of commemoration to celebrate his love of God's creation is a legacy that can speak to some of God's people in their contexts. We bless homes, relationships, creation, vocations, food, shawls, and even backpacks. It makes sense, then, that we bless the non-human companions who are a life giving part of our families. There is, of course, a whole lot of theological and liturgical conversation that can spring from this kind of service. But, we're at a seminary, and we love any occasion that gives such opportunity for lively debates. Rufus and I look forward to it every year, and every year I look forward to talking about the liturgical theology of it with my classmates and professors afterward. It's one of the many reasons I love being in this seminary community.