A Holy Chaos That Even Invites Horses

Flat Rock church hosts its annual Blessing of the Animals

Father Josh Stephens at last year’s Blessing of the Animals.

“It’s important to take a moment to bless our pets and to thank God for them,” says Father Josh Stephens, rector of St. John in the Wilderness Episcopal Church in Flat Rock. “They are a part of our families who truly are companions with us in all of life’s ups and downs. They bless us with greetings, kisses, and all kinds of gifts.” 

He adds that “our pets have especially been there for us during this pandemic. They have given us companionship during times of isolation and forced us outside when we really needed fresh air. The Blessing of the Animals is a fun way to connect with God and one another at a time when that can be hard to accomplish.”

Father Josh will lead the annual public event in the Rector’s Garden behind the parish offices. The service is being held the day before the annual Feast of St. Francis, who was said “to have been a person of such inner peace and outward love that even animals were comfortable visiting him and spending time with him.” 

The rector also relates the most famous story about St. Francis, involving a wolf that had been terrorizing an Italian village, leaving everyone living in fear. “Francis went to the wilderness to meet the wolf, hear his story, and to pray with him,” says Father Josh. “In the end, the wolf and Francis walked back to the village, where they made amends with one another. The village agreed to care for the wolf, and the wolf agreed to protect the village.”

Father Josh grew up near the ocean in Florida, where he says he and his family developed a deeply spiritual relationship with nature. “An encounter with a dolphin, a sea turtle, a pelican, or even a shark was especially sacred.”

St. John in the Wilderness has been blessing animals since the 1970s. “Usually there are dozens of animals attending the ceremony. … This year, I’m hoping one of our horse-loving parishioners brings their steed. We have also seen snakes and a talkative parrot before. We usually hold our blessing outdoors, and typically the services are an example of ‘holy chaos’ as the dogs struggle to stay still for very long.”

After a few group prayers, Father Josh lays his hand on every winged, scaled, or four-legged creature and offers up a personalized prayer. Children are encouraged to bring a stuffed animal who is a special friend, or who perhaps represents a pet that does not travel well.

“We will then share Holy Communion before being sent out to go in peace to love — and to play fetch.”

Blessing of the Animals with Father Josh Stephens happens Sunday, Oct. 3, at 4pm at Saint John in the Wilderness Episcopal Church (1895 Greenville Hwy., Flat Rock). For more information, call 828-693-9783 or see stjohnflatrock.org.

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