Task Force on Animals - Diocese of Olympia
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from All-Creatures.org


Moi Fulton [contact c/o All-Creatures.org]
July 2014

We want people to care about animals and see that as part of their religious calling.

The following is the text of the remarks I made as a member of the panel: Engaging Religious Institutions (Moving major US religions in an animal-friendly direction)  at the Animal Rights National Conference  in Los Angeles, CA on July 13, 2014. My remarks report on the work of the Task Force on Animals , a subcommittee of the diocesan Bishop’s Committee on the Environment  in the Diocese of Olympia which covers western Washington state.

The text below correspond with the PowerPoint Slides (downloadable PDF)

SLIDE 1: Title Slide
I am here to tell the story of how one small group has been working to engage a faith community in animal-friendly issues -- to tell what helped our group get started and to tell what we are doing.
Here’s the story: I have always felt that animal rights is a spiritual issue --- and I’ve always wanted my church, the Episcopal church, to treat it as such --- and I’ve felt called to try to move my church in that direction. And so for some years I have sat on my diocese’s environmental committee, mostly because it was the only entry point for animal issues that I could find in my diocese’s structure.

The environmental committee accepted my suggestions to craft our mission statement to include compassion for animals, and they listened respectfully to my statements about animal treatment and the carnivore connections to climate change –-- but I couldn’t figure out how to get any substantial animal-related work going with this group. Finally, two years ago, I sent an email to the chair politely saying that I was resigning. To my surprise, she replied asking me to stay and create a subcommittee to address animal issues. She asked me to do this because she had just that week been notified of an animal-related resolution passed at the national convention of the Episcopal Church.
SLIDE 2 - Resolution Excerpt
This resolution, called Merciful & Humane Treatment of God’s Creatures, urged all “Diocesan Environmental Commissions …to provide information to educate our congregations about decisions that would affect the lives and health of endangered species, farmed food animals and domesticated animals…” At last, my church seemed interested in the lives of endangered species, animals raised for food, and domesticated animals! This resolution is what initiated our work and it sustains our work.
Most faith groups have national and regional conventions where Resolutions and/or Statements are passed that address a wide array of issues. Knowing about an animal related Resolution or Statement adopted by your national faith group can provide a powerful starting point for engaging your local or regional church, synagogue, mosque, etc. Too often the average layperson is unaware of these Statements and Resolutions. But here’s some helpful information:
SLIDE 3 – HSUS Webpage: Religious Statements on Animals

A list of Religious Statements on Animals can be found at the HSUS website. It contains statements and resolutions for Christian denominations, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, UU, and others.
Once our diocese became aware of the resolution passed by our national church body, our first step was to form a group do what the resolution called us to do: to begin the work of educating churches about decisions that affect endangered species, animals raised for food, anddomesticated animals.

SLIDE 4 – Seeking Animal-Friendly Volunteers
So I put out a notice “seeking animal-friendly volunteers”. It was emailed to all churches in the diocese, and put in the newsletter and on the website. Four people responded to the call. The five of us make up the Diocesan Task Force on Animals and we have now worked together for two years to help churches honor and celebrate the sacredness of all animals -- to help congregations and individuals to think, pray and relate to animals in ways that influence compassionate choices and actions.
I’ll tell you quickly about the projects that we have implemented over the past two years.

We started with Saint Francis Sunday – which occurs in early fall. Saint Francis is the patron saint of animals, and so this seemed liked a good day to introduce our Task Force on Animals to the diocese.
SLIDE 5 – Saint Francis Day Materials
We chose to focus on domestic animals for Saint Francis Day. We wanted to do something that would bring compassion for them into the mainstream of parish life. We prepared materials and asked the Bishop to email them to all churches in the diocese – which includes 110 churches in western Washington state. The materials included an insert for Sunday bulletins with examples/suggestions of compassionate choices for the animals that individuals could make, and also ways that churches could honor and celebrate domestic animals throughout the year. It also introduced our new Task Force and invited congregations to share ideas with us in a questionnaire we’d prepared. For the liturgical aspect we included an entire sample service that centered around animal   compassion, including sermon topics as well as a sample sermon, prayers, and hymns. It could be used as a whole or parts could be integrated into an existing service. We wanted more than a Saint Francis day service with a “pet the doggie comment” at announcement time or just a quick animal blessing at the end. We also included a Sunday school lesson and library suggestions a comprehensive list of animal-related prayers for various occasions throughout the year.
SLIDE 6 – Christmas Card
Next, for Christmas we focused on both domestic animals and wildlife.
In early Advent we send a card to all churches. The card theme is: Let Heaven and Nature Sing – with the paw prints representing wildlife under the star or cross in the sky. The card encourages congregations to remember the domestic and wild animals that grace our lives and need our help.
It asks congregations to choose a compassionate action to take during the holiday season. Suggestions are included such as --- collecting goods for a local animal shelter, donating to a wildlife preservation group, choosing to eschew fur, etc.
SLIDE 7 – Lent
For Lent we focused on animals raised for food. This was our biggest project. We teamed with the Diocesan Committee on the Environment and wrote a 40-day Lenten discipline called Simple Changes: Food & Faith, subtitled Suggestions for Compassionate Eating to Help Our Planet.
Each week of the Lenten Discipline focuses on a theme. They are:

  • Keeping an Environmentally Kind Kitchen
  • Choosing Local, Organic, Simple Food
  • Eating with Compassion for God's Creatures
  • Responding to a Hungry and Thirsty World
  • Embracing Christian Hospitality
  • Prayer & Fasting during Holy Week

Though week three deals solely with animal issues, animal issues are integrated into each week.
Each week is structured with a brief reading, biblical quotes, and daily challenges to individuals to make choices that show compassion for the animals and the planet. Each Sunday’s challenge is a suggestion to make church Coffee Hours more compassionate & sustainable. There are also videos and longer readings suggested weekly that are recommended for deeper individual reflection or for congregations to use for a weekly Lenten discussion series.
The Lenten discipline is made available through the web, or via emails sent out once a week to the 300+ people who signed up for them the first year -- and it was in Sunday bulletin inserts if churches choose to use them.
SLIDE 8 – Easter
For Easter we again asked the Committee on the Environment to team with us – because they have a budget. They provided $300 which allowed us to provide 10 churches with plastic-like Easter Eggs that are animal-friendly and environmentally friendly. All of the 110 churches in the diocese could apply for the grant – which involved reading educational material about the cruelty involved in egg production. It discouraged using real eggs for Easter -- or any time of the year -- and provided education about eggless-alternatives for compassionate cooking and baking throughout the year.
SLIDE 9 – Thanksgiving
Our Thanksgiving project is not finished yet, and we hope to role it out this fall. We are creating a guide called: Eating Together in Dietarily Diverse Society. As we all know, sometimes when people become compassionate and aware about animals it can put them in conflict with others around issues related to food choices. We wanted to focus on how to bring in compassionate choices and maintain hospitality without making it an ‘us versus them’ situation. This guide will provide suggestions for omnivores and vegetarians alike – and will emphasize communication as well as recipe ideas. We hope it will benefit hosts and guests and family situations.
SLIDE 10 – Cathedral Day
The Cathedral Day project is also in the development phase. Once a year the diocese is invited for a day of family-friendly games, fun and food at Cathedral Day. We plan to include activities that help children and others embrace animals as part of our church lives – and to ensure that vegan food is highly visible.
SLIDE 11 - Church Calendar Projects
This slide shows the parts of the church year for which we have developed or are developng projects: Saint Francis Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Lent, Easter, and Cathedral Day
SLIDE 12 - Upcoming Projects
This slide is a list of projects that are in the early planning stages.
We’re planning a website that will house our project materials, provide resources for congregations, and inspire compassion.
We are considering starting an online book group through the website that allows for threaded conversations throughout the diocese.
We are also hoping to offer online retreats on topics such as Sharing Creation With All God’s Creatures. A retreat would be structured as a series of activities that last over a weekend or a week. The activities might include readings with questions to consider, and/or guided prayerful meditations, and/or journaling. Retreats could be done individually or with a group.
We might possibly partner in a multifaith wildlife workshop that a ministry student has been investigating. And we hope to draft advocacy letters for situations such as the elephants in our regional zoo, wildlife legislation, etc. We are hopeful our Bishop might sign some. That concludes the work we’ve done and currently have planned for the future.
SLIDE 13 – Mission Statement
After a year of working together we created a mission statement which reads: “Recognizing that each animal life is beloved by God the Creator, the Task Force on Animals assists the Diocese of Olympia in honoring the sacredness of all animals and seeking the reconciliation of all creation.”
SLIDE 14 – What We Do
To accomplish this mission, we hope to:

  • Celebrate the sacredness and worth of all animals;
  •  Give voice to every creature by advocating for love, compassion and justice for all animals;
  •  Encourage understanding of ways humans and animals affect each other and the environment;
  •  Educate about cruelty, neglect and disregard toward animals;
  •  Support spiritual needs during times of animal adoption, blessing, illness, death, or grief

SLIDE 15 – Lessons Learned
Finally, let me say that we’ve learned we are more successful in our work when we can do the following:

  • Engage others through what we have in common
  • Be inviting and inclusive (not confrontational)
  • Inspire compassion (not guilt)
  • Find small ways people can make changes that are easy, practical, sustainable for them
  • Stress the idea that one person can make a difference
  • Be persistent and be patient!

We want people to care about animals and see that as part of their religious calling. There are many ways to come into the circle of compassion and animal rights work: vegetarianism, shelter and rescue work, religious teachings, someone who loves their dog and is curious, and many other paths.

We’ve come to believe we have to look to what we all hold in common – and to work from that.

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