Regardless of what you think about his moral positions, their political implications, or his religious affiliation, he is—as Lennon might say—more popular than Jesus. Instead of getting bogged down in those controversial things, let’s take a moment to discuss simply, his papal name.
This Pope, who used to be called Bishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio, chose the papal name “Francis” as an homage to the early 13th century monk, Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, who we know better as St Francis of Assisi. Apparently when you are a popular enough Catholic, you are allowed to take a short nickname. It seems to work for Brazilian soccer players and female pop singers too, but don’t try it at home.
Of the original Francis, legends abound. For instance, he turned down a trust fund lifestyle to live in intentional poverty. In doing so, Francis did not follow a jam band, but instead inspired legions of other compassionate men and women to live in solidarity with the poor. Both have their place, but only one seems to make you a saint.
Also, in the midst of the third Crusade against the Middle East, Francis went to Egypt to broker peace with Muslims. And he is considered the first person in history recorded to have “stigmata”, the sympathetic experience of Jesus’ wounds, through spontaneous prayer-induced bleeding from the wrists or hands. What will probably sound far less gross, until you really consider the south end of the donkey by the manger, Francis set up the first live nativity scene at Christmas.
Of course, the most popular legends around Francis involve his connection to nature. They say… he preached to the birds, befriended an angry wolf, and prayed to Brother Sun and Sister Moon—that last one is pretty tricky, without getting some serious stink-eye from the conservative bishop. Accordingly, in 1979 Francis was declared the Patron Saint of Ecology. He has been a touchstone for Christians of all types to rally around environmental stewardship. And many church gardens now have little statues of Francis with animals, directing people of that faith to recognize that nature itself is never merely decoration, but the glory of God.
Nederland has so many people who feel a deep connection to nature, and the Community Church is no exception. Other than our beautiful stained-glass windows that depict these mountains at each season, we tend to have two or three dogs in any service, at least until my own dog Chugach wants to sing in the choir, whereat he is ushered out. Nederland is also a place that really appreciates its wildlife, with plenty of folks who love spotting a bear in the back yard—trust me, it’s less exciting when one is eating the peaches off your kitchen counter. Some people in Nederland even think there is something sacred about those animals, or at least something that deserves sacred attention.
Today, many churches, Catholic and otherwise, honor the legacy of St Francis by celebrating a Blessing of the Animals worship service. For instance, a Presbyterian congregation in Boulder annually invites folks to march their pets forward, for the pastor to lay his hands on them. So far, no bites, but there was once a close call with a German Shepherd and a guinea pig. Or, St John the Divine Cathedral in New York City once brought the circus, with elephants literally walking down the aisle to open worship! Perhaps you’ll agree that we need a bit more discretion.
All this to say: a Blessing of the Animals service will take place behind the Community Church, in the Guyer Garden, at 11:30 on 4 October, which happens to be St Francis’ feast day. Our normal 10 am worship service will offer a thematic preview, and then after our fellowship time, the whole community is invited to gather outside to pray for all animals and to give special blessings to our pets.
Feel free to bring your dog, cat, horse, hamster, llama, lizard, snake, ferret, turtle, or even your fish! If you’ve lost a pet recently, we’d love for you to bring a picture. Of course, we ask that you attend to all leash laws, and to maintain control of your pets, and kids, during this wild zoo of an event. May it be joyful for all, and a witness to a love that knows no bounds!