Photos by Julie Branaman

Judging from his forlorn expression on Sunday mornings, Henry, our little mixed-breed Chihuaua dog isn’t excited about church. It means we leave him behind while he sadly watches out the window for our return.

Animals are mentioned throughout the Bible, but rarely appear in worship services. Then at the end of September, it happened. Animals of all shapes and sizes were invited to church!

At St. Petersburg’s First Presbyterian Church on Beach Drive, the first annual Blessing of the Animals was held on Saturday, September 29th. Led by Reverend Dr. Dawn Conti, the service was attended by a variety of dogs, two goats, and a pet squirrel. Three people brought their pet’s cremains, and one little boy presented his stuffed turtle for a blessing. A gentle breeze blew as the humans joined in a responsive reading, followed by the praise band’s rendition of All God’s Critters. Even the animals grew still as Reverend Conti offered a prayer, then invited the animals to the podium where she lovingly and patiently blessed each one. Meanwhile, community partners offered information and treats at their booths. The service culminated with the charge: “Go out into God’s world. Live in peace with one another and with all of God’s creatures. Amen.”

The Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and the environment, is celebrated on October 4th.  Many other services take place throughout St. Pete and worldwide.

Following First Presbyterian’s ceremony, Henry took a long nap. He had a great day at church!