3 Vibrant Ways to Celebrate St. Francis
October 4th – this coming Thursday – is the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of Italy, animals, nature, and campy lawn ornaments, not to mention the current Pope’s namesake. He not only cared for impoverished people, he lived as one, and founded a movement of monks who live lives of simple poverty out and about in the world. He wrote songs and preached to both birds and people. Over the nearly eight centuries since his death, many have said that in no other human being has the life of Jesus come more vividly, tangibly alive.
We recommend taking a little time to celebrate him this week, this Sunday, or sometime this month. No need to be too literal about the precise “feast day” - why not think in terms of a “feast month?” Francis would approve!
Here are three lovely ideas:
1) Bless Some Animals: Perhaps the most common way to celebrate Francis is to hold a Blessing of the Animals. Bringing animals to church can be fun, but also rather complicated (not to mention traumatic for some of our furry or feathered friends), so a simpler way to go is to ask people to bring in pictures of their pets or favorite wild animals. People can lay the pics on the table or altar, and the blessing can happen during one of the service’s prayer times.
Here’s an even simpler option: since many people have pictures of their pets or favorite animals on their cell phones, invite them to share them during worship with a neighbor sitting near by, and then ask that neighbor to pray a blessing; or create a prayer station up front during communion or other prayer time, and invite folks to bring a picture (digital or physical) up with them for a blessing.
Finally, another option is to do the same thing on social media this week and next. Invite people to post pictures of their pets and favorite wild animals on the church’s social media channels, with the promise of a blessing with a post, on Oct 7 in worship, or both.
We recommend giving some version of this idea a try. As you know, many people love animals, especially their pets but also particular wild creatures, and blessing them can be a warm, engaging way of connecting with profound emotions and convictions – and that’s what vibrant Christian life is all about, right?
We promise you and your congregation will love it!
2) Lift Up Biodiversity: Climate change gets a lot of attention these days, and well it should. But a growing number of ecologists are concerned that one of the slow-motion disasters we’re all living through (and indeed one that climate change exacerbates) isn’t getting enough press: namely, the great extinction happening all around us, the likes of which hasn’t been seen on Earth since the dinosaurs took their leave. As Elizabeth Kolbert, E.O. Wilson, and many others have written, we’ve already lost a great many species (largely due to human activity), and if left unchecked, the trends indicate that we could lose many, many more over the next 50-100 years.
While the situation is dire, there’s also some inspiring good news to share: in recent decades, the field of conservation biology has identified a set of new strategies that show real promise. Loosely gathered under the umbrella term, “rewilding,” these strategies amount to restoring wilderness areas and large-scale migration corridors in ways that protect both animals and entire ecosystems.
The opening pages of Genesis portray (a) God as a creative host who loves and cares for all creatures, and (b) humanity as a creature made in God’s image – and so our churches should be communities of care and action on behalf of creation, both raising the alarm about extinctions and getting involved in rewilding projects.
So why not preach on this subject sometime this month? Or launch a Bible study looking at the first chapters of Genesis, reading them with the eyes of St. Francis (SALT is working on one, by the way, so stay tuned!). Or kick off a study group for those most passionate about these issues in your congregation (Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction and Caroline Fraser’s Rewilding the World are great places to start).
3) Get Theatrical with Scripture: Finally, Francis engaged with Scripture in a distinctive way. In effect, he received Scripture as “script” in the sense of being something we should perform and live out. One of his key moments of conversion was when he heard Matthew 10:10 read aloud in a little stone chapel in the Tuscan countryside, Jesus’ instructions to take “no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff.” Francis decided then and there to actually follow these instructions: and so from then on, he went barefoot, living in profound simplicity. Likewise, Francis went on to invent the live Nativity scene at Christmas time, complete with actual farm animals and a real manger. People came from miles around to experience the story in this fresh new way.
Some might call this “taking Scripture literally,” but it’s more accurate to say that what Francis was doing was taking Scripture as something to be performed, to be done, to be incarnated. He wanted to bring the stories vividly alive, to help people engage them with all their senses – not just hearing about a stable in Bethlehem, but also being in the presence of a stable, with a real manger sitting right there between an ox and a horse!
In this spirit, why not invite your congregation to explore living out Scripture in tangible ways? You could preach on Francis’ epiphany and Matthew 10:10, or on the general theme of Scripture as script. You could have a biblical passage performed in the sanctuary rather than simply read from a lectern. You could begin plans for a live Nativity for this coming Christmas, or form a study group on “Performing the Gospel.” In any case, the essence of Francis’ insight is this: What would it look like for our community to receive Scripture as something to be lived out tangibly in our lives? We may not toss aside our shoes and go barefoot – but what can we do? Which verses can we not only affirm, but actually live out?
Okay, that’s all for now. Enjoy celebrating Il Poverello (“the little poor man”) from Assisi!
Peace and love,
The SALT Team
p.s. Here’s some clip art to help honor Francis. Consider the lilies of the field, and the birds of the air! : )