Sunday, September 27, 2009

Blessings of Animals

I am suffering a bit of insomnia this Sunday, as I will be officiating a wedding in Central Park. The weather, with light, but persistent, showers, may have something else in mind for us. The bride and groom, Sarah and Bill, are terrific. Sarah is a dog lover and decided that their beloved pooch Boefje should be the ring bearer. While this may strike some as odd, in the Celebrant community it is not that uncommon, believe it or not. For, a hallmark of the Celebrancy movement worldwide is a deep appreciation for all creatures.

It is a fitting time for Boefje’s wedding debut, as we are approaching the Saint’s Day for Francis of Assisi. Many are familiar with the beautiful St. Francis prayer (Lord make me an instrument of your peace, where there is hatred, let me sow love….), but he is also well known for his love of animals. Indeed, this is the time of year when many churches, Catholic and Protestant open their Sanctuaries for the “Blessing of the Animals.” A Christian church around the corner from my apartment, for instance, proudly displays a banner for today’s “Blessing of the Animals.” As we passed by the church yesterday, walking home from the Metropolitan Museum, my boyfriend noticed the sign and murmured about the silliness of it all. As a good Celebrant, I tried to remind him that in modern America—and particularly in a place like New York— pets have taken on a vital role as family members, for many. With extended families on the decline and vast numbers of people living alone, pets provide companionship and unconditional love for so many. The Celebrancy community acknowledges these connections by routinely leading services related to animals, such as pet memorials. My Celebrant colleague Dorry Bless, for instance, is officiating a ceremony in October at St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center (, where she will bless the wonderful dogs being raised to work as guide and service dogs for the blind and disabled.

Recently I came across an article in the Christian magazine Guideposts, most often associated with the great Norman Vincent Peale. The piece described a minister who was struggling with a dwindling congregation in North Weymouth, Massachusetts, outside Boston. “Out of nowhere” the idea came to her—to let congregants bring their animals to worship services. It was a huge success! (

It is refreshing and energizing to see so many spiritually-inclined institutions recognizing the role that animals play in our communities. I’m glad the Celebrancy community is at the forefront. So, as I close, the sun is nearly rising. We are keeping our collective fingers (and paws) crossed that Boefje will have his debut.
p.s. A special remembrance to my friend Robin who lost her pet Gracie this past week.
p.p.s. We did end up having the wedding outside today....cold and wet. But the dog looked mighty cute.

Friday, September 25, 2009

A Ceremony with Heart

Charity has always been important to me. For years I have worked in the nonprofit sector and been active in philanthropic causes. That charitable impulse is one of the reasons that Celebrancy was so appealing to me—this is a lovely, creative way to be of service to people during important moments in their lives. So, it was a natural next step when I decided “marry” my Celebrancy practice with charitable giving.

I recently decided to launch “ceremony with a heart.” It is a simple idea. For each ceremony that I am lucky enough to officiate, I will make a contribution to a charity to commemorate the honoree. For me, this is a small way of “giving back.” I am exceedingly grateful to do this kind of work—why not share my good fortune with others? With nonprofits facing financial struggles due to the recession, they can certainly use the assistance. Whether the service is a funeral/memorial, wedding, baby welcoming, home blessing, coming of age ceremony or anything else, there is no better way to recognize an individual, couple, or family than shining a light on causes with meaning to the honoree. So, for example, “my” bride and groom are marrying in Central Park this weekend, here in New York. They adore this public space where they walk their beloved dog every day. So they have asked that a donation to the Central Park Conservancy.

So, my little contribution is one little way to keep the virtuous cycle of loving going and giving.
*The above photograph is my boyfriend's kindergarten graduation in Budapest, Hungary, circa 1959. The children are given a handkerchief with bread tied up--for the journey.

Monday, September 21, 2009

One of the great things about being a Celebrant is the heightened awareness that I have to holidays and celebrations that are “not my own.” On Friday evening, my Jewish friends celebrated Rosh Hashanah—the New Year, 5770. Rosh Hashanah rings in the “Days of Awe,” the 10 day period between the New Year and Yom Kippur, the “Day of Atonement.” At the risks of showing my ignorance and utter simplification on this topic, I must confess that I am captivated by the symbolism and meaning of this period. The New Year arrives to the blast of the shofar the ram’s horn that serves as a trumpet, marking the birthday of God’s creation of Adam and Eve. This is a happy, sweet time, but also one of reflection and introspection, recognizing God’s judgment over our lives and the world. On the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah, many will go to a flowing body or water and throw bread into the water, symbolizing casting away of one’s sins. The coming period offers a time of reflecting, amending, and repenting for one’s sinful deeds. The Days of Awe culminate with Yom Kippur, the most sacred day of the year, which includes fasting, meditation, and prayer. May we all be scribed in God’s Book of Life for the year!

As life would have it, I was in the Newport Rhode Island area on Saturday to celebrate a beach wedding on a truly stunning September day. In seeing the sites in Newport, I was reminded that this luxurious resort community is the home of the oldest standing Synagogue in America, the Touro Synagogue. The Synagogue building was completed in 1763 for the Jeshuat Israel congregation, which itself dates back to 1658 when Spanish and Portuguese Jewish families, most probably from the West Indies, arrived in Rhode Island. I was first introduced to this institution by the excellent PBS documentary on The Jewish Americans. Although Rhode Island was a haven for religious freedom, the Jews remained persecuted and fearful, constructing a most discrete building as shown in the picture. In one of my favorite points about its history, I learned that in 1790, the Synagogue’s warden Moses Seixas wrote to President George Washington, with good wishes and support for the Presidential administration. Washington’s response was quite remarkable for that day and read in part:

...the Government of the United States…gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance...May the children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and figtree, and there shall be none to make him afraid. May the father of all mercies scatter light and not darkness in our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in his own due time and way everlastingly happy…

What a wonderful gift for me to mark the New Year in this historical place!