CAPE ELIZABETH — Once a year a local church takes its focus off people and instead holds a special ceremony for animals.
For its 10th annual Blessing of the Animals ceremony Sunday, Oct. 4, the Cape Elizabeth United Methodist Church will be expanding the celebration to include other living things as well, such as plants. The ceremony starts at 2 p.m. at the 280 Ocean House Road church.
“This year we’ll try to focus not only on animals, but on all creatures,” the Rev. Ruth Morrison said. “I was trying to help us think beyond animals and think of all nature and all of creation.”
Morrison has led the ceremony each year since it started in 2005. She said it originally began as a way to raise money for animals affected by Hurricane Katrina, but the ceremony no longer has the fundraising aspect to it.
“We do it out of love for animals,” she said. “It’s a social thing for people who love animals.”
Morrison said the ceremony always starts with songs and prayer. She then goes around individually to each of the 30 or so animals to bless them.
“I go around and kiss them on the nose and say, ‘Stay out the road,’ and things like that,” she said.
Morrison said she also asks people questions about how pets were named or where they came from.
“I try to make it conversational,” she said. “It has to be engaging.”
Since “Cape Elizabeth is a real dog community,” Morrison said, canines are the most common pets brought to the ceremony. People bring other animals as well, such as rabbits, goats, gerbils, cats and birds.
Morrison said people can bring any size and species.
“We can accommodate any kind of creature,” she said. “There’s nothing we can’t handle.”
Morrison said she’s done Blessing of the Animals ceremonies at other churches where people have brought large farm animals, such as horses, cows and pigs.
The ceremonies are usually held outside, Morrison said, but have been indoors as well. She said this weekend’s ceremony will be held rain or shine, and the weather shouldn’t deter people who think large animals can’t come inside the church.
“We’ve had a donkey walk right down our center aisle,” she said.
Morrison said it’s important to celebrate animals and to honor them.
“Animals are a part of God’s gift to us and they have as much right to be here as we do,” she said.
The ceremony is held each year on the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis is the patron saint of animals for the Catholic church, and many Blessing of the Animals ceremonies are held on this day.
Morrison said anyone is welcome to attend the ceremony, whether they own a pet or not. She said the event is always “delightful,” especially when there’s a wide range of animals to see.
“The more animals and variety, the better,” she said. “And more festive.”
The Rev. Ruth Morrison has been blessing animals at the Cape Elizabeth United Methodist Church for 10 years.