Understanding Animal Ministers and Chaplains
Twenty years ago the idea of an animal minister or chaplain would have induced a fit of the giggles. These days if you say something about an animal chaplain, you are likely to be asked where a person might find one. Animals have become the cornerstone of many of our lives and these spiritual leaders don’t preach to pets, but rather assist others in finding meaningful way of living with animals.
What is Animal Ministry?
Animal ministry is actually about people and how we interconnect with the animals around us. Most religions have traditions regarding the spirituality of animals and that intersects with human life in a positive way. Some would argue that in American culture, this reverence for feathered, furred and scaled creatures has disappeared. This is where animal ministries step in.
Interfaith animal chaplains provide a variety of services to their community, including pet loss grief support, memorial services, prayer for animals who are sick or injured, being present at a clinic to comfort the bereaved, and providing support during surgery or euthanasia. Just like other clergy, they try to be there for the cyclical challenges of sharing your life with pets. As we become more and more connected to the animals with whom we share our homes, issues of illness and death become greater matters of the heart. Sometimes we need support and this is where a chaplain is helpful.
Sermons for the Animals
Animal chaplains can also deliver guest sermons at community churches and speak to the bond between animals and humans. In this way they might offer spiritual education and guidance regarding our responsibilities as human beings regarding the other animals with which we share our world.
Other animal ministers may also have their own congregations, where they speak to a particular religion, but incorporate the importance of animals in their services. These ministers believe that animals teach us to love unconditionally, to care about the beings in our lives above our possessions and to enjoy the little things in life. They feel that by learning from the loved animals in our homes, we can become better and more spiritual people. And yes, some animal ministries do welcome well-behaved dogs in their Sunday service.
Some animal chaplains engage in hands on community work, such as visit nursing homes and hospitals with therapeutic animal assistants. Others may organize and manage animal shelters, animal rescue organizations, or other non-profit organizations which benefit the pets in their community.
Become an Animal Chaplain
If this sounds like a great job to you, you’re not alone. There are quite a few animal chaplains out there and several organizations that you can investigate. If you are already ordained, you can take a course and officially add Animal Chaplain to your title. If you are involved in animal care and the community, you can take the classes and become an Animal Ministry Leader. Although these titles don’t necessarily mean that you’ll be starting your own ministry, some animal professionals find that they council people so frequently on pets and matters of the heart, that the coursework is helpful. You can investigate websites such as www.animalchaplains.com and www.petchapel.org to get more information. Maybe it’s your calling!