Feast of St Francis celebrated at St Matthew‘s, Hastings

It was a church service with a difference.

Pets were welcome, some even joined in with the hymns.

At St Matthew‘s Church in Hastings on Sunday, pets were invited to church to be blessed.

The service, which is to celebrate the feast day of St Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals and the environment, saw around 60 humans, and 30 non-humans, come to the church.

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Reverend Alister Hendery said it was a remarkably calm event, although a musician‘s dog joined in with the hymns.

It was mainly cats and dogs this year, with a few birds and rabbits also in attendance.

“No donkeys this year,” Hendery said.

This Labrador was a bit short to see over the pews during the service. Photo / Warren Buckland facebook twitter email linkedin google-plus whatsapp pinterest reddit

Having been at the parish only eight months, it was the first time Hendery had attended the Blessing of the Animals at St Matthew‘s, although he has been to them at other parishes.

He said each animal was brought up to the alter, and had a prayer said for them and their owner, with two priests there to do the blessings.

Biff McAulay with 5 year old Rosie, who was being blessed. Photo / Warren Buckland facebook twitter email linkedin google-plus whatsapp pinterest reddit

There is also a custom at St Matthew‘s of lighting candles for pets that had passed.

Hendery said seeing the candles made you realise the significant relationship people have with their pets.

He said he is often called by members of his congregation when their pets pass.

“The grief is very real.”

He believed St Matthew‘s had held the service before, and he planned to make it an annual occurrence.

The feast of St Francis is on the October 4, although most churches celebrate on the Sunday closest to it.

“It‘s one of (those) simple things that means a lot to people.”

This year the service was run with the Leg Up Trust, which works with disadvantaged youth by teaching them how to work with horses.