23 November 2014 – Louise van der Hoeven and the “Animal Service”

Our first Animal Service, led by Louise Van der Hoeven, was fascinating and very moving. Attended by several humans, and one dog, the congregation brought gifts of pet food and goods (leads, blankets, and toys) to donate to Bryson’s Animal Shelter in Gateshead.

Megan the labrador

Our opening words were from Einstein, followed by readings by Gary Kowlaski and Barbara Gardner. The readings focussed upon the need for compassion towards all living things, and not putting profit before lives. Gary Kowlaski’s piece discussed the old church tradition of blessing animals, and how some Unitarian congregations have adapted this for the modern day.

As the service continued, we considered how animals are often our companions throughout the different stages of our lives. Thinking about animals and spirituality, the service invited us to consider how many creation myths from the world’s religions introduce the idea of humans as in some way separate from, even above, the natural world.

New spiritual initiatives, such as the Quaker-led Interfaith Alliance for Animals, seek to redress this, and encourage us to see ourselves as part of the natural world, not divided from it. Whilst we must be careful not to sentimentalise or anthropomorphise animals, the service ended with an invitation to think again about our relationship with non-human animals, and revere life in all its forms.