Blessing for all creatures great and small at St Cuthbert’s in Darlington

Matthew Saunders (11), of Darlington, and  Alfie, Harry Allan (4), of Helena Valley, with chicken Isla and, at back, Father Chris Bedding next to German shepherd Charley and labrador Elle while holding pug Midnight. Picture: David Baylis d486704
Matthew Saunders (11), of Darlington, and Alfie, Harry Allan (4), of Helena Valley, with chicken Isla and, at back, Father Chris Bedding next to German shepherd Charley and labrador Elle while holding pug Midnight. Picture: David Baylis d486704

ALL creatures great and small will be welcome to join the congregation at a church in Darlington this weekend for a Blessing of the Animals ceremony.

Father Chris Bedding from St Cuthbert’s Anglican Church said the blessing was a tradition associated with St Francis who lived in Italy from 1181 to 1226.

“St Francis is the patron saint of animals because of his great love for nature,” he said.

“For many centuries, it has been the custom to give thanks for animals on St Francis Day, and late in the 20th century, the practice of bringing animals to church for a blessing was pioneered in the UK.

“Funnily enough, it was made popular by an episode of The Vicar of Dibley.”

Fr Chris said each animal would be individually blessed.

“Over the years, St Cuthbert’s has held at least five blessings of the animals and it’s been a few years since the last one but we hope to make it an annual event,” he said.

“The most unusual animal I have blessed is a newborn baby chick in a little country church in the Hunter Valley 20 years ago.”

Fr Chris said the church’s youth group would hold a presentation on how to be sustainable in your home in honour of St Francis.

The much-loved Anglican priest, known for his work as a stand-up comedian, activism for same-sex marriage and asylum seeker rights and his irreverent sermons, was suspended by his diocese last year over “tones of blasphemy” in his social media and theatre performances.

He returned to the Darlington-Bellevue parish earlier this year.

The service to include the blessing of the animals ceremony is on Sunday at 9am.