The Animal Ministries Group of First Congregational Church held its first meeting on Sunday, January 19, 2014 and was formed with the following goals in mind. Because it is not an official ministry group of the church as required by its governance, the group is open to anyone, whether a part of FCC or not.
In conjunction with the Faith Outreach program of The Humane Society of the United States, the Animal Ministries group at First Congregational Church celebrates the blessing of animals in our lives. We also seek to engage people and institutions of faith with animal protection issues, on the premise that religious values call upon us all to act in a kind and merciful way towards all creatures. We believe this also includes caring for not just our own pets, but those of others, and cherishing and loving them as God cherishes and loves us.
The group initially formed with an eye toward providing multiple services for pet owners (and others, such as in nursing homes, etc.), and to do things that overall would be for the greater good of all animals, not just people's family pets. More specifically, we sought to:
Discuss and try to practice the United Church of Christ's recommendations and theology on mindful eating, and other things they support as promoted by the Humane Society of the United States and its Faith Outreach program;
Support our local animal shelter in any way possible, especially with its in-house food pantry;
Assist fellow FCC members and friends with grief support, urgent pet care needs, and by providing limited pet care while members are sick, hospitalized, or otherwise convalescing. This also includes some members who take their pets to visit people in nursing homes, participate in the local Read to a Dog program, etc.;
Hold annual Pet Blessing service in October and Pet Memorial service in May or June, with an eye toward eventually doing a special Christmas Eve service for pets; and to,
Promote discussions of animal rights, protections and welfare issues during meetings, including pending legislation that could affect animals, and provide information through our web site and other means of communication about animal and animal ethicacy issues, pet tips, vegan or vegetarian recipes, etc.
Since our inception, we have accomplished a number of things, as outlined below:
In October 2014, in conjunction with a handful of other churches in Oshkosh, we held our first annual Pet Blessing Service on St. Francis Day weekend. Later that evening, in keeping with the UCC’s philosophy of eating mercifully, we held a vegan/vegetarian potluck dinner in Fellowship Hall, after which we heard from speakers from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) about the work they do and they encouraged people to sign up to be a volunteer if they wanted to help in the animal welfare cause. We also heard from a local farmer who abhors factory farming and discussed how they raise – and humanely slaughter their animals for meat. The next morning, during the Adult Ed time period we heard from a local veterinarian and his fiancé about why they became vegan and how they are much healthier as a result. Vegan and vegetarian recipes from the dinner the night before were also made available for anyone wishing to try them. That morning’s worship service focused on animals and family pets, and the kids had been asked to bring stuffed animals for the children’s time.
During that October 2014 weekend, the group also kicked off a Fill the Bowl campaign where pet food and supplies could be left for the local animal shelter to help provide food on a temporary basis to individuals or families who have fallen on hard times financially and might otherwise have to surrender their pet(s) because they’re unable to feed them. This mission helps them because they can keep their pet(s) and helps the shelter because they’re not having to re-home those additional animals. This is something that is ongoing so people can help out the local shelter at any time. This particular weekend got us national attention in the HSUS magazine All Animals (http://www.humanesociety.org/news/magazines/2015/09-10/st-francis-example-inspires-wisconsin-church.html?credit=web_id93480558). We were told by HSUS staff that we were the first church they’d heard of nationally who had such an active involvement with animal welfare and making a difference for them and they wanted other churches to be inspired by our work. As a result of that, the FCC Benevolence Ministry Group later honored us with a $500 check to also help out the local shelter. Between all these efforts hundreds of pounds of dog and cat food could be purchased. And in 2015, when the article came out nationally, one woman from the east coast sent a $200 check to the church to help out in our mission, which we donated to the shelter. And a woman from Minnesota brought more than 20 large bags of dog and cat food to the church which we also donated to the shelter. In October 2015, we held the second annual Pet Blessing Service and were once again honored to be gifted another check, this one for $200, from the Benevolence Ministry Group to help out the local shelter.
In addition to having one of the dog-styled coin banks from the Oshkosh Area Humane Society, we had a small dog house made and placed near the altar next to the Habitat House. During the children’s time, youth are encouraged to put spare change or bills in either the Habitat House or the dog house. Money placed in the dog house goes to the local humane society so they can continue their mission of helping animals and people.
In May 2015, we held our first annual Pet Memorial Service for people who had lost pets whether in the last year or any time before that, too. Despite publicizing the event it was not as well-attended as we had wanted. We later found out there were a number of other major events going on in the city that day, causing us to consider a different date for the 2016 service. But it was a very nice service which allowed people to share their thoughts about their departed pets. A sage blessing of pets’ pictures or something else that was a favorite of theirs was also performed during the service. We also heard from experts in the funeral business why pet grief and mourning, or having some type of “service” for our pets when they pass is an important part of the process.
We started forming a list of people in the church who are willing to help walk dogs, feed pets, or perform other simple pet-related tasks if a pet owner is hospitalized, convalescing, or otherwise ill.
We secured information from nursing homes as to what they require if someone wanted to take their dog or some other pet to visit with patients in nursing homes or retirement communities.
In the coming year, besides continuing with these kinds of activities and services, we hope to find short videos we can watch, then discuss as a group in order to enlighten us further about animal welfare and how we can all make a difference. In addition, we look forward to finding current news about animal issues and discuss those issues to, also trying to find a way through discussion and brainstorming how we might be able to help.
In October 2017, the Animal Ministries group sponsored a Fill the Bowl Giving Tree, which resulted in dozens of dog and cat food, toys, and much-needed supplies being donated for the Oshkosh Area Humane Society. Because of church members' generosity, FCC was awarded with its second Purple Paw Award. During the weekend of October 7 and 8, 2014, the group also held its annual Blessing of the Animals service and a vegetarian potluck (an event co-sponsored by the church's Green Team).
We are passionate about our pets and animals in general and warmly encourage anyone who feels the same way, either within our church family, or elsewhere in the community (regardless of denomination or one's own personal spiritual journey), to join us in our efforts and work. In the meantime, we thank everyone for their generosity and support in helping animals, pets and the people who love and own them.
Anyone wanting to join the Animal Ministries group, or get more information about it, is invited to call the group facilitator, Cheryl Hentz at (920) 209-PETS (7387) or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org