Rectory & Rhinelander Bldg

A Celebration in Song, Prayer, and Picture for the Blessing of the Animals

Sunday, October 8, 2017

All services: 8:00 AM, 11:00 AM, and 6:00 PM

Former Rector Michael Phillips presides on St. Francis' day with some canine assistance for the "Blessing of the Animals"When the idea of a partnership is used to describe activities between priest and laity, what's usually thought of is a well-run Sunday School, a vigorous outreach program or a successful stewardship campaign. At the Church of the Holy Trinity (Episcopal) in New York City, a unique and exceptionally creative collaboration between the Rector and a parishioner has resulted in a book, a song, and a liturgy for one of the most glorious Saint's days on the church calendar.

The story really begins a few years ago with a terrible flu suffered by Holy Trinity member Judith Gwyn Brown. Too infirm to do anything outside her apartment except walk her Puli sheep dog, Cordelia, Brown decided during one of her Sunday morning walks to chance it by going to church. Too weak to return Cordelia home, the pooch came along ! Sitting sheepishly in the rear of the church at (then) 8:15 am Sunday morning said Eucharist, Brown was pleasantly surprised to find the (then) Rector The Rev. Herbert G. Draesel, Jr., not only welcoming Cordelia, but inviting her back—along with any other dogs parishioners wanted to bring to the 8:15 liturgy. (Since then, the morning Eucharist is regularly attended by a handful of dogs and grateful owners, all of whom – people and animals—are quite well-behaved!) At the same time, it was noted that the parish's annual St. Francis Day celebration and Blessing of the Animals at its (then) 11:00 am Choral Eucharist on the first Sunday in October was growing by leaps and bounds in number of people as well as in the variety of creatures in attendance.

St. Francis illustration Bless All Creatures Here Below illustration by Holy Trinity parishioner Judith Gwyn BrownNot long after this visit, Brown, who has illustrated over 60 books and book jackets and whose exhibited works include those at the Metropolitan Museum in New York and the Huntington Library in California, teamed up with Fr. Draesel. Bert Draesel, composer of cabaret tunes who wrote a musical on the life of St. Francis and the "Rejoice! Mass" (while a student at General Theological Seminary in New York City), and Brown put their talented heads together producing the illustrated book, Bless All Creatures here Below: A Celebration for the Blessing of the Animals. "It's a book for people who care about animals," Brown notes, and adds that in addition to it being a guide for the St. Francis festivities, it has been used in memorial services for pets. Fr. Draesel's song of the same name is printed, with music, in the book. "The tune," noted Holy Trinity's organist/choirmaster (now retired) Stephen Hamilton, "is easily accessible in words and melody, and is very singable by children of all ages." Also in the book is an outline for the service of the blessing with suggested scripture readings and prayers. In addition, the front page is a poster format that can be used by churches to announce their St. Francis activities. Cordelia, Brown's pooch who started it all, appears in the book, fittingly, as herself.

Vestryperson Virginia Borland sees to her animal companion "Tisdale's" spiritual assuranceA comment in the Episcopal Church's service book, Lesser Feasts and Fasts, states: "Of all the saints, Francis is the most popular and admired, but probably the least imitated." Surely St. Francis would be pleased at Bless All Creatures Here Below, with its appeal to eye and ear and its rootedness in the love of God's creation.