Animals in our lives and in our hearts

animalsBy Rev Barbara Allen
Spirituality and Creation Project Worker

As we approach World Animal Day (Feast of St Francis, 4 October) it is timely to take stock and consider our animal brethren. Animals feature in our lives, homes and churches in a myriad of ways, from companion and/or protector, as therapy/assistance animals, or as a reminder within our Christian faith of Jesus, the Lamb of God.

Next time you are in a church that has stained glass windows, count the number of animals represented in the pictures: Noah’s Ark, Jesus and the lost sheep, doves, donkeys. See if you can spot a pelican, inside or outside the church; pelicans came to symbolise Jesus’ sacrificial love, based on the legend of the pelican plucking its breast to feed its young its blood.

What about the evangelists, three symbolised by particular animals: John as an eagle, Luke as an ox, and Mark as a lion? Have you ever considered the animals in pride of place, around the throne, in Revelation 4?

As the weather warms, there are more and more fundraising events taking place, often on Sunday mornings. Some of these events include animals.
On a recent walk for KHA (Kidney Health Australia) a number of dogs walked with their owners. There is a very special walk happening on 11 October.

Bark for Life has been organised by the Cancer Council. While a fundraiser, this walk has a different focus; it recognises and honours the caring qualities of the dogs that have helped their owners as they battled, or still battle, cancer.

How have your animal companions helped you? After bouts of surgery and time spent recovering, my dogs and cats certainly were my four-legged nurses…okay, they couldn’t plug in the kettle or make me a cup of tea, but their companionship, warmth, presence, and love certainly helped me heal.

As we consider our own animal companions, past and present, let us not forget those less fortunate. A momentous day for animals happened on 7 July this year; this was the day when the NSW government issued a ban on greyhound racing.

No living creature, human or non-human, should ever go through such hardship and cruelty and have it sanctified as ‘okay’ by the general community.
The Report from the Special Commission of Inquiry found that between 48,000 to 68,000 greyhounds (almost half of all greyhounds born to race) were killed in the past 12 years because they were deemed uncompetitive – in other words, not fast enough!

Why should the church care? Why should the Uniting Church be interested? We should rejoice, because this was a courageous example of caring for all creation, being a prophetic voice for all who suffer.

Within our synod, this issue is linked with the Vision and Mission Principles which arose from the Synod’s recent Major Strategic Review. Part of our Vision is ‘seeking community, compassion and justice for all creation’, and one of our Mission Principles is to ‘care for creation.’

We, as stewards of all creation, caring for God’s creation, need to speak out wherever there is any cruelty, human or non-human.

As we enter the season of spring, racing carnivals are on the horizon. What is our ethical stance re horse racing? How many more horses have to die in jumps racing before it is banned?

According to the RSPCA, these horses are under-performers in flat races, yet they are not allowed to retire. Instead, they are subjected to a very dangerous sport where they are required to jump over high fences at high speeds, while running long distances. This ‘sport’ results in horrific falls, injuries and death. Racing Victoria has apparently boosted the prize money from last season by $500,000. When animals are seen as objects, for entertainment and monetary gain, and not loved as gifts from God, then we need to ask the question: is this right?

What is to be our response, individually and as a church?

St Francis said: “Not to hurt our humble brethren is our first duty to them, but to stop there is not enough. We have a higher mission – to be of service to them wherever they require it.”


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