Many churches had a “blessing of the animals” in early October. Its roots go back to the 4th century, when churches began blessing animals on the feast of St. Anthony (the day before Easter), the patron saint of animals. The practice first came to America in the 1930s in Los Angeles.
The blessing of the animals in most Roman Catholic and Protestant churches today is not associated with St. Anthony but with St. Francis of Assisi, who lived in the thirteenth century and was widely known for his fellowship with animals and the entire creation. His hymn “All Creatures of Our God and King” (UM Hymnal, #62) celebrates God’s love for the creation. It became customary to have a blessing of the animals on or near his feast day, October 4.
I do not know what John Wesley would think about blessing animals. But we can say much about what he thought about animals themselves.
First of all, God is the source of all life, not just human life. God is the power of “the life of everything that lives in any kind or degree.” God “is the source of the lowest species of life, that of vegetables; or being the source of all the motion of which vegetation depends.” He is the foundation of all life of animals, the power by which the heart beats, and the circulating juices flow.” (Spiritual Worship,” par. II.2)
Humanity was given the responsibility to be stewards over the entire creation, including animals. Wesley believed that originally animals were endowed with a level of understanding higher than they now possess. When humanity fell into sin, it altered our relationship not only with God and one another, but with the entire creation. “As all the blessings of God in paradise flowed through man to the inferior creatures; as man was the great channel of communication between the Creator and the whole brute creation; when man made himself incapable of transmitting those blessings, that communication was necessarily cut off.” With those blessings no longer able to flow, the animals lost much of their original strength and understanding. (“The General Deliverance,” par. II.1)
Now the animal world is filled with violence, but none is so violent or cruel as the human. The human “pursues animals “over the widest plains, and through the thickest forests. He overtakes them in the fields of air, he finds them in the depths of the sea.” Even “the generous horse” and “the faithful dog” are not exempt from human cruelty.
“The lion, the tiger, or the shark, give them pain from mere necessity; in order to prolong their own life; and put them out of their pain at once. But the human shark, without any such necessity, torments them of his free choice, and perhaps continues their lingering pain till after months or years death signs their release.” (The General Deliverance,” par. II.6) Wesley was very aware of both the wanton killing and the casual cruelty to animals in his day, as we are in our own.
Wesley believed that in the new creation, God will restore animals “not only to the vigour, strength, and swiftness which they had at their creation, but to a far higher degree than they ever enjoyed.” (The General Deliverance,” par. III.3) But in the meantime we are called to be good stewards, and to care for God’s creation, including the animals. To Wesley it is clear that animals are valued by God; can we then do less than care for them as those who ourselves are loved and redeemed by God?