100514 beast blessing11Reverend Ophelia Laughlin blesses a dog at St. George’s-by-the-River’s annual St. Francis Day event last October. (Photo by Susan Ericson. Click to enlarge)


StGeorgeThe Vatican may be fuzzy on whether animals get into heaven, but an Episcopal church in Rumson says they’re certainly welcome at services.

St. George’s-by-the-River will start offering a monthly worship next month at which all pets are welcome, associate pastor Reverend Jeff Roy tells redbankgreen.

The outreach, which begins with the 5 p.m. service on February 14 and will recur on the second Saturday of each month, grew out of the church’s annual St. Francis Day blessing of animals, Roy said.

The event has grown in recent years from one in which 30 or 40 pet owners turned out to one drawing four or fine times that number, with an estimated 75 dogs, cats, hamsters, turtles, birds, goldfish and other creatures in attendance at the most recent one, in October, said Roy.

“We felt like we were hitting some sort of sweet spot there,” he said. The new service, he said, is aimed at drawing new potential congregants, “people who might not normally attend church” because they find it “intimidating.”

The idea has met no resistance within the parish, Roy said, and the foremost practical issue is one of, um, hygiene. Initially, the pet-friendly services will be held in the parish hall, which has a wood parquet floor that can easily be wiped clean in the event of accidents, Roy said. But there’s some thought to moving the service to the church itself, if the size of the crowd merits it, he said.

Does this welcome mat mean that the Episcopal church believes animals get into heaven? It does not, said Roy. But though the church holds no doctrine on the question, and its pastors do not perform sacraments for animals, it’s not uncommon for the shepherds to pray for the flock’s pets.

“I think we recognize that animals are companions in every sense,” he said.