Episcopal Church agnostic on the resurrection of animals


Episcopal Church agnostic on the resurrection of animals


George Conger

The doctrine that all dogs go to heaven has been placed in limbo by the 77th General Convention. 

On 11 July 2012 the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church adopted a revised version of Resolution A054 “Authorize Rites and Prayers for the Care of Beloved Animals.” The question of prayers for the souls of animals was brought to the convention by the Standing Committee on Liturgy and Church Music which submitted the text, “Various Rites and Prayers for Animals” for approval.  However, the Convention’s Committee on Prayer Book, Liturgy and Church Music rejected “Various Rites” as a whole, and offered selected prayers for approval by the church.

The Bishop of Missouri, the Rt. Rev. George Wayne Smith said the prayers provided by the Prayer Book committee “no longer express the desire for our animals to be part of the resurrection.” The committee removed language from the proposed “Burial Office for a Beloved Animal”, that has the officiant say: “Give us faith to commit this beloved creature to your care, and hear our hope that we all may one day be reunited with our animals in the heavenly places, where you live and reign for ever and ever. Amen.” The new language for the office states: “Give us faith to commit this beloved creature of your own making to your care, for you live and reign for ever and ever. Amen”

After Bishop Smith presented the resolution for debate, the retired Bishop of Alabama, Henry Parsley stated “I welcome the liturgy, but I have a question: Where do they go?” “To heaven, where else,” the Presiding Bishop said. Bishop Parsley responded, “Not the animals, but the liturgy.  I will leave the animals to God, but where does it go in our liturgical book?”

Bishop Smith replied the texts will not be in “Enriching Our Worship” or the Book of Occasional Services, but “somewhere in the cloud.”

“Why do we need to authorize this,” Bishop Duncan Gray of Mississippi asked.  Bishop Smith responded that there had been a “steady, unrelenting call for rites like these.”

The Rt. Rev. Jeffrey Lee of Chicago added that “part of the reason” for this resolution “is the wide range of materials.  We wanted to put something reasonable out there.”

The Bishop of Montana, the Rt. Rev. C. Franklin Brookhart rose and as he stated “no one loves their dog more than I do, other bishops rose from their chairs with objections and cries of “shame!” contesting the bishop’s remarks.  One bishop was heard to say “I have no dog in this fight,” while other bishops offered witticisms and puns that appeared to express a degree of exhaustion after seven days of meetings.

After the presiding bishop called the meeting to order, Bishop Brookhart stated, “I simply want to ask if this material is asking for requiem masses for animals?” Bishop Smith responded, “No,” while a second bishop said perhaps this could be referred to the Guild of All Souls.

The retired suffragan Bishop of New York, the Rt. Rev. Catherine S. Roskam asked whether these rites were to be used for the “Blessing of Animals” on the Feast Day of St Francis.

Bishop Smith stated, “No, there are separate rites.”

Bishop Steven Miller of Milwaukee offered an amendment, asking the language of the resolution be changed from authorizing the rites to making “them available.” He supported the pastoral intention of the rites, but believed the doctrinal issues had not been fully explored. The resolution was passed on a mixed voice vote.

After the meeting concluded two bishops approached by Anglican Ink stated they felt the debate had been rather silly and signaled the desire of many bishops to pack up and go home.  Asked if all dogs go to heaven, one bishop responded "we've spent so much time at this convention defining 'all' that I feel safe in saying that all dogs, both pure bred and mixed breed will go to heaven."

A second bishop added, "but not cats."

Speaking to the media at the Convention’s afternoon press conference, the Rt. Rev. Michael Smith, Bishop of North Dakota was asked if animals went to heaven. “I don’t really know,” he said, adding that this was a “pastoral issue.”  The “first concern” he had was “pastoral. ‘How does one help someone?’ respond to the death of a pet,” he said. These are “theological issues not many of us have thought through,” he said, “but if a little girl needs Fluffy the cat to see the beatific vision, then Fluffy will be in heaven,” Bishop Smith said.