…and all through the cathedral, all manner of creatures were stirring, including a (pet) mouse! Dean Roger reveals why the Carol Service for Pets is among his favourite services…
“Welcoming a new bishop, ordaining priests and deacons, celebrating Reader ministry, being in awe of the cathedral choir’s continued excellence; all these things happened at the cathedral this year, as well as countless other services and celebrations. Each have their own distinctiveness and special resonances. But I warrant that none of them guarantees the sheer joy, spontaneity and unconditional love that is evoked by our annual Carol Service for Pets, this year taking place on Saturday 28 December.
It has been a feature of cathedral life for nearly 60 years when Dean Henry Lloyd was responsible for the first one in 1960, and today it is almost the first service that is pencilled into the diary. Hundreds will come on that day, bringing their beloved pets to fill the cathedral with chatter, barking and meowing from every quarter. It is truly the most heart-warming thing we do, because it celebrates that irrevocable bond between human and pet (it seems a travesty to call the human part of the relationship a pet owner!), and it is a wonderful thing to see.
Of course, it is chaos: we try and have a couple of readings and sing some carols, but most of our four-legged friends have other ideas, singing their own versions of Away in a Manger. However, after a month of being pretty serious, in the run-up to Christmas, we can afford to be a little frivolous and not take ourselves too seriously, especially towards the end of the service, when everyone is invited to bring their pets up into the sanctuary of the cathedral, the place where communion is celebrated and where only the clergy and servers are usually allowed, in a move that brings that unconditional love and the holiest part of the cathedral together; where God and his creation are that close! We always have a pageant of angels leading the holy family to the sanctuary, followed by pets bringing their human companions, and the sight of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus (and sometimes it is a real baby!), literally surrounded by animals of every description is a joy to behold.
And the stories we hear from people bringing their pets, not just from Cornwall but all over the South-West and much further afield, reveal the depth of that affection and love which, somehow, only our pets can evoke. Most of them are delightful and happy, and speak of the joy their pets bring. But occasionally we hear sadder stories, too, like the elderly lady who brought her pet dog to the service a few years ago because the poor thing only had a few weeks to live, and she wanted to bring him to the service for a final blessing, offering her thanks for all the love her furry friend had brought her over the years. I tell you, I was weeping as I blessed them both. In a world where we are constantly being reminded of the tortuous nature of some relationships, the spontaneous, instinctive and profound love that our pets summon up is humbling to behold. Dyed in the wool cathedral personnel, who can sometimes comment that this or that particular service would have been better if, Mr Dean, you had done this instead of that, but, to a man and woman, they are as inspired by this thank you to our pets as the most Chihuahua-obsessed human. Long, long may it continue!”
Find out more about this year’s Carol Service for Pets.