At the Compassion Consortium, we celebrate diversity. We believe every being brings a unique view to the community that we co-create when we gather together. So, each month, we publish an essay which provides a view from our community, a slice of one human's journey of compassionate living.
Newsflash! Animal Chaplaincy Has Become a
by Reverend Sarah Bowen
“Meow. Meoooooowwww. MEOW!” implores my morning alarm. “Bub, it’s Saturday! Come on. Five more minutes?” I beg. It’s ineffective, and I end up with a cold cat nose on my cheek.
Since his automatic feeder went off an hour ago, I know Bubba-ji is not waking me for breakfast. No, this loquacious tuxedo cat wants me to open the entrance to his “catio,” a screened room off our house. Presumably, he wants to start his morning rounds of chittering at chipmunks and soliloquizing to squirrels.
Although my digital alarm won’t go off for another hour, I acquiesce and rise out of bed. The more-than-human world is waiting. There are cats to feed and endangered whales to petition for. Dogs to adopt out and injured squirrels to rehabilitate. Guinea pigs to bury and grieving people to help heal.
As an animal chaplain, I support all beings, regardless of their species or belief system. While this type of chaplaincy carries a relatively new job title, the roots of this vocation can be found in most of the world’s religions, philosophies, and spiritual paths. For example, folks like St. Francis of Assisi, Samthann of Clonbroney, Mahāvīra, the Buddha, Jesus, and other less-famous folks beseeched the people around them to treat animals with compassion. Plentiful sacred texts suggested the same.
Today’s animal chaplains may work in religious communities, but they are just as likely to be found in animal sanctuaries, veterinary hospitals, and pet shelters. You can find us doing a lot of advocacy and activism on behalf of other species. And, of course, we help people 1-on-1 to cope with the loss of a companion animal. With 70% of homes in the U.S. containing a species other than human (57% worldwide), it’s no surprise that animal chaplains are in high demand.
Recently, Andrea Cooper, a journalist for Religion Unplugged who has also written for the New York Times, reached out to me to learn more. Her article, “Animal chaplaincy has become a growing profession” features not only my musings on the field, but also includes perspectives from Michael Skaggs at the Chaplaincy Innovation Lab at Brandeis University, Rev. John Gibb Millspaugh,from the Unitarian Universalist Animal Ministry, Robert Gierka from the Association for Veterinary Pastoral Education.
This past September, over fifty five students enrolled in our animal chaplaincy program, called into sacred service for the more-than-human world. In a few months, many of these remarkable humans will be ordained, adding their uniqueness to the emerging profession. And I can't wait to follow their adventures.
Want to know more about animal chaplaincy? Read the article here.
Want to train to become an animal chaplain? Check out our training program.
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Why the Compassion Consortium? by Rev. Sarah Bowen