St. Francis of Assisi and World Animal Day October 4


The Vicar of Dibley is a classic TV comedy starring Dawn French and many people fondly recall the episode where she decided to hold a service for the blessing of animals. There are many churches in all traditions – Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant – that have services for blessing pets and other creatures. The Vicar of Dibley episode is a case of art imitating life because there is a long church heritage in the liturgies concerning blessing ceremonies of God’s creatures.

Since the late 1970s, many churches choose to celebrate St. Francis of Assisi day (October 4 or the Sunday closest to it) as the day for holding services for the blessing of pets and other creatures. Since 1931 the secular calendar has designated October 4 as World Animal Day. Some Christians rejoice when the Sunday services for pet blessings are held while others have reservations or deep suspicions that this is a frivolous activity.

We may be losing touch with what the Bible discloses about the triangular relationships between God, humans and non-human creatures. We may be losing touch with church hymns, prayers and art that bear witness to the biblical teachings about animals being included in God’s purposes and God’s blessings on the whole creation. We may also be forgetting that England’s RSPCA was the brain-child of an evangelical Anglican minister, Rev. Arthur Broome. Broome invited social reformers, including anti-slave campaigners such as William Wilberforce and Thomas Fowell Buxton, to become co-founding members.

As the blessing of animals season approaches, it is timely for individual Christians and local church groups to take time to consider what they may plan for October 4.

A helpful way to start thinking about the biblical, theological and ethical issues involving our relationship with other creatures, and the background to pet blessing services, is to explore chapter 9 of Taboo Or To Do “Christian Blessings for Pets”. We invite you to check out our chapter.



Left to right: Philip Johnson, Ross Clifford and Graham Hill.

A new book Taboo Or To Do, which takes up some critical hot-button issues and is by the writing team Ross Clifford and Philip Johnson, has been officially launched in Australia. It was launched at Morling College before an audience that had just listened to Sri Lankan evangelist and theologian Ajith Fernando give a presentation about today’s religions. Dr Graham Hill, author of Global Theology, introduced the writing team and asked the two of them to explain why they had written Taboo Or To Do.

Ross Clifford began by stating that the new book, which is suitable for both personal and group study, takes up some hot-button issues that many Christians are trying to come to terms with. He explained that Taboo Or To Do addresses some practices, such as yoga, mindfulness and martial arts like T’ai Chi, that have their roots in Eastern religions but have been adapted and become mainstream activities in the western world. Clifford indicated that the need for the book was prompted by a combination of pastoral and missional concerns. Some Christians are adapting practices like yoga as part of their own personal growth. Others who emphasise creative missional outreach often interact with popular practices like mindfulness and T’ai Chi as way of building bridges between the church and local community.

Clifford said, “This is the world we now live in and these are the questions that Christians and churches are asking: Can I be in a yoga class and not compromise my faith? Should our church rent its hall for karate classes? What should I do at school or work-place when it is compulsory for me to attend a mindfulness programme?”

Philip Johnson added that through the ten chapters a range of other topics are covered including aromatherapy, energy healing, transformation seminars and services for blessing animals. Johnson affirmed that as we are currently in the seasonal preparations for Hallowe’en, the book is timely with a chapter that sifts through questions about Hallowe’en – is it taboo or something Christians may engage with? The book invites readers to sort out the critical issues about this festivity.

Johnson further explained that the book does not preach at readers. Instead each chapter presents relevant background data, assembles matters for discernment, and includes discussion questions and practical activities so that each reader may work out their own response. A helpful feature of the book is that it illustrates matters through a range of case studies showing how different churches across Australia, England and the USA are responding to the challenges. The book’s foreword is by John Drane.

Hallowe’en is it Taboo or To Do?


Image source: Wikipedia

Hallowe’en is almost upon us as stores throughout Britain, Australia and the USA are now being decorated with trinkets, costumes and confectionery. It’s pretty clear now that the Hallowe’en season has just as much commercial pull as Christmas. We believe that now is the appropriate time for both individual Christians and Bible study groups to think about how they are going to come to grips with Hallowe’en 2016.

For many Christians in England and Australia the approach of Hallowe’en triggers disturbed feelings. Many ponder on it in negative frameworks.

The basic questions many Christians ponder include:

  • Is Hallowe’en just another commercial rip-off?
  • Is it tainted by “demonic” influences?
  • Does it present churches with a missional opportunity?
  • Is it a combination of all of the above?

John Drane observes that an over emphasis on the devil’s power, combined with a heavy reliance on spiritual warfare tactics as being primary reasons why English and Australian churches have tended to be very hostile toward Hallowe’en.

American churches, however, seem to react quite differently. Many see it as a missional opportunity to connect with the local community.

In Taboo Or To Do we outline an interesting form of outreach known as “Trunk or Treat” that has emerged in the USA and has been transplanted to Australia. This involves creating a safe and fun space where children and their parents may participate. Cars parked in the church grounds have their trunks or boots open containing sweets, cakes, toys, prizes and advice on how to help support charities. Other activities include face painting, games, and activities related to presenting faith in a non-coercive respectful way.

US pastor Mike Jones moved to Australia in 2004 and has brought to a church culture that is alarmed by Hallowe’en the trunk or treat alternative. On the preceding Sunday he challenged the congregation, ‘Some of you may be concerned about what we are going to do if some kids come dressed as gruesome creatures, devils, vampires or witches. Well if that’s the case and it probably will be, we are going to let them in, love them, be gracious to them and care for them.’ His small Lakeside Baptist Church, with a Sunday school of twenty-five children, connected to one hundred and eighty children in the Hallowe’en outreach … One grandparent who attended said, “I just can’t believe the church just cares for our families so much that you would do all of this.”

Dive into chapter two of Taboo Or To Do and let us know what you think. Is “Trunk or Treat” the sort of outreach response you would sponsor? Why or why not? Over to you!


Announcement about our new book and the opportunity for readers to join the blog for a conversation about Taboo Or To Do.

Taboo cover

Welcome! We invite our friends, colleagues and readers to join us, Ross Clifford and Philip Johnson, in a conversation about our book, Taboo Or To Do? Is Christianity complementary with yoga, martial arts, Hallowe’en, mindfulness and other alternative practices? It is published by Darton Longman & Todd. Our friend John Drane, who is a Scottish practical theologian, biblical scholar and best-selling author, has written a foreword.

Taboo Or To Do is a book for Christians who may be exploring different practices either for their personal development, or are involved in creative missions ventures where hot-button issues are being faced. It is a conversation-starter for individual Christians and bible study groups that want to work out if something is “taboo” or not. We believe that we are long overdue for having frank and respectful conversations on specific hot-button matters such as:

  • May a Christian do the physical exercises of yoga without being exposed to some sort of spiritual peril?
  • My employer has enrolled me in a personal development course that presents “mindfulness meditation”. Isn’t this taboo because it comes from Buddhist practices?
  • Are churches  compromising truth by “celebrating” Hallowe’en when it seems tainted by pagan beliefs and crass commercialism?
  • Can a Christian participate in martial arts such as karate, kung fu and T’ai Chi given that they have historical roots in Buddhist or Taoist beliefs? How can a Christian manifest the fruit of the spirit (love, joy, peace patience etc) while being trained in violent techniques of fighting?
  • Are church services for blessing animals a diversion from the gospel message?

Taboo Or To Do? is not an encyclopedia of topics similar to books opposing cults and non-Christian religions. Taboo Or To Do? takes a different tack by not preaching at readers to shun what is new, edgy or unusual. Instead, we present helpful information to enable readers to make up their own minds.

In ten chapters we explore controversial hot-button topics such as yoga, martial arts, Hallowe’en, energy healing (e.g. Reiki), mindfulness meditation, aromatherapy, mind-power transformation seminars, animal-blessing services, etc. We examine the historical background and root beliefs associated with each topic. How do people perceive them: Is this religious? Is it secularised? Has it been “Christianised”? We draw attention to critical matters for discernment particularly in assessing the practitioner’s worldview.

We present case studies of churches that have responded in different ways. For example, some churches condemn and reject the celebration of Hallowe’en, while others believe they have “Christianised” it, and there are others who for purposes of outreach have devised alternatives to trick or treat. Each chapter contains discussion questions as well as suggested “things to do” to take matters beyond what our book examines.

You may join us in subsequent blog-posts to chat about particular hot-button issues discussed in our book. We look forward to your lively and fruitful contributions to this conversation.For other background about our book check out the publisher’s press release (click here).

Check these places to purchase a copy:


N.B. for Librarians the book’s ISBN 978 0 232 53253 1.