Wendy Janzen is a pastor at St. Jacobs Mennonite Church in Ontario, Canada, a spiritual director and the founding pastor of Burning Bush Forest Church, an outdoor worshipping community that meets year-round in natural spaces in and around Kitchener-Waterloo. Forest Church (also known as Wild Church in parts of North America) is a new expression of church that invites participants to deepen their connection to their watersheds and practice paying attention to God’s presence through worshipping in and with creation.
Mennonites are not known to celebrate or recognize feast days for Catholic saints. We turned away from all of that during the Radical Reformation. There are, however, some gems of wisdom in the faith heritage that preceded Anabaptism, and St. Francis is one of those figures who deserves some attention.
This 13th century saint was known for his desire to imitate the life and work of Christ, for his concern for the well-being of the poor, and for his belief that nature was the mirror of God. Over the past four years that I have been drawn into leading an ecologically-oriented outdoor worshiping community called Burning Bush Forest Church, St. Francis has become an inspiring figure of faith for me.
Francis’ reverence for nature and love of animals is a helpful example of how faith informs our relationship to the earth. We are members of a community of creation and have a call to protect and enjoy nature as both stewards of God’s creation, and as creatures ourselves. Fransiscan spirituality helps to provide a beautiful perspective on our place in creation, and paints creation as revelation of God’s outpouring of love not only for us, but for all creatures.
The Feast of St. Francis marks the end of the Season of Creation, a rather new liturgical season from September 1 to October 4. The Season of Creation invites Christians around the world to honor our Creator by loving creation and each other. The Feast of St. Francis is a day that some churches offer a blessing of the animals.
In this day of climate crisis and mass extinctions, it seems important that churches and people of faith address these pressing issues from a moral and faith perspective. The worship gatherings I lead with Burning Bush Forest Church are an invitation for people to deepen their connection with the earth and with our loving Creator who breathed life into all that exists.
I wrote this prayer to celebrate the Feast Day of St. Francis, and to express my gratitude for all animals.
Creator of all that lives and breathes,
we raise up a prayer of thanksgiving for
the animals in our lives
and in our world.
For the great animals —
elephants, whales, grizzly bears, wolves, wild cats…
For the endangered animals —
bees, caribou, orcas, whip-poor-will…
For pets and companion animals —
dogs, cats, horses, rabbits…
For forgotten and unpopular animals —
rats, reptiles, fish, insects…
WE GIVE OUR DEEP THANKS.
We are grateful for a world of beauty and diversity,
for the role of each animal in its ecosystem.
Stir us to action for creatures who have
no voice or ability to
save their habitat or
affect change in our world.
May we live lightly in this world
so that our more-than-human
neighbors may also live.
With gratitude for the blessings
of this earth, and for all
God’s creatures we pray.