For 77 years, the British animal welfare organization, PDSA, had awarded the Dickin Medal to animals who display “conspicuous gallantry or devotion to duty.” This year the recipient was a giant pocketed rat named Magawa who, along with his human handlers, helped to clear more than 140,000 square meters of landmines and ordinances in Cambodia. Magawa was delightfully unaware during the ceremony as he received the medal.
As I read about Magawa and other “conspicuously gallant” creatures, my foot was falling asleep under the weight of my 10-year-old standard poodle, Basil. He was also delightfully unaware of the situation, unconcerned about this pastor’s column or a medal ceremony held thousands of miles away, but very interested in the box of treats not too far from my computer. I don’t expect Basil to be nominated for any special award. Basil is a good-ish dog with fondness for trash, a begrudging relationship with commands, and a wonderful joie de vivre. Despite several claw swipes to his nose, he is an eternal optimist believing that one day he will meet a cat who really wants to be his friend. He likes to hide under the rhododendron, sprinting out and leaping into the air and playing a game that he invented. Every guest, every delivery, every rattle of the leash, is met with the same unbridled enthusiasm. As an introvert, my extroverted dog forces me out of my shell and into the present. Is he exceptionally devoted or conspicuously gallant? Not at all, but he is a blessing to me.
Perhaps there is a creature close to you, one that makes your life better. Maybe it’s a puppy trying to get your attention, a cat stretched out in afternoon sunlight, a goldfish swimming serenely, chickadees pecking at a birdfeeder, a gecko hanging on the glass of an aquarium, a squirrel that loves your tomatoes, or even a hamster dedicated to 3:00 a.m. workouts on its exercise wheel.
This Sunday we pause to give thanks for all of them, recognizing the unique gifts that animals bring to our lives. It also is a holy pause to remember our responsibility to care for creatures around us. At the annual Blessing of the Animals, your pets are invited to join us for worship at 4:00 p.m. on the front lawn of the church. It will be a noisy affair. We know that some dogs will need more than six feet of personal space, and that many of our cats will be present in spirit rather than in person. Together, we will make a congregation celebrating that God created creatures great, small, wise, wonderful, mischievous and miraculous, and asking for God’s unique blessing on each of them, just as they have been blessings to us. We hope you’ll join us.
A few practical notes: All human participants need to wear masks and practice social distancing. A limited number of chairs are available, if possible, please bring your own, or be prepared to sit on the ground. If the weather proves uncooperative, we will offer a drive through blessing beginning at 4:00. Simply enter through the Sanctuary parking lot, and pastors will be standing between the Chapel and the Sanctuary to offer a blessing.