How do you hold a Blessing of the Animals service during a pandemic? Very carefully, with plenty of social distancing, it turns out.
The Rev. Canon Bonnie LeBlanc’s service in the Parish of Stanley is usually held at the Nashwaak Villa, where she often has pastoral visits, but that was off the table this year to keep residents of the home safe. She thought about holding a virtual service, but yearned for something a bit more personal. There was a dog show in town, but even it had banned spectators.
Then she hit upon the idea of going to a farm. Last year, the administrator of the Villa, Melody O'Neill, had brought the animals of their hobby farm to the service, and she quickly invited Bonnie to hold the service at their farm in nearby Tay Creek.
So Bonnie wrote an operational plan for the event, and on Sept. 27, celebrated the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi by blessing a menagerie of animals in the lower field of Melody and her husband, Jim’s 60-acre farm.
Bonnie read from Matthew 11:25-30 and Psalm 148. She gave some background on the life of St. Francis.
“It is said that he preached to the animals because he just had to share the message, and others weren’t willing to listen,” she said. “Today we celebrate and give thanks to God for entrusting pets and farm animals to our care.”
Bonnie livestreamed the service on Facebook so others could watch and participate. She met each animal in attendance, blessing them, and read out the names of cats and dogs whose families had requested blessings: Sophie and Chip Price, Max and Zeus MacKinnon, Sophie Fullarton, Gingy Estabrooks and Pepper Lacey.
Bonnie included the cattle of the fields, birds of the air, and all animals in her prayer:
“Almighty and everlasting God, Creator of all things and Giver of all life: Let your blessings be upon these and all animals. May our love and care for them reflect your compassion and safekeeping of all creation. Grant these animals health, peace and safety. Strengthen us to love and care for them following the good example of Francis of Assisi, through Jesus Christ our Saviour, Amen.”
Animals in attendance included horses Bitsy and Breeze; dogs Brie, Tulip and Benny; cat Buster; donkeys Bonnie and her four-month-old foal, Benny; and goat, Oreo — nine in all. Human participants include the O’Neills, daughter Julie and grandchildren Claire and Kailey, plus Lou and Jacqueline McKnight.
Why did Bonnie go ahead with the service during a pandemic?
“To be perfectly honest, I was looking at things to celebrate, saw the Blessing of the Animals, and wondered, ‘can we make this work outside?’” she said. “So a smaller group by invitation worked out well.”
Jim, who plays the organ at St. Mary’s in Fredericton, hosted the event, “because we could. We were honoured to say yes,” he said.
Plans were made on the spot to hold next year’s Blessing of the Animals service at the Anderson-O’Neill farm.
1. The Rev. Canon Bonnie LeBlanc, right, blesses the animals, including Breeze, with Claire on her back (holding Buster the cat) held by Julie; Benny the foal; Bonnie the donkey with Kailey on her back and her grandma, Melody, holding her rope.
2. This photo shows all nine animals that were blessed during the service. From left: Tulip the Bernese Mountain dog; Buster the cat; Benny the golden doodle; Breeze the horse; Bitsy the horse; Oreo the goat (beneath Bitsy); Brie the Australian shepherd; Benny the foal and his mom, Bonnie the donkey.
3. Jim O'Neill leads Bitsy as the Blessing of the Animals service ended.
4. The people and animals head back up to the farmyard after the service.
Photos: Gisele McKnight