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December 16, 2010

Faith and Animals: Year in Review

From religious scholars to urban pastors, faith communities everywhere embraced animals in 2010

  • Christine Gutleben with Liberty. The HSUS

  • A Religious Leaders Roundtable galvanized animal outreach in Chicago. The HSUS

  • A free vet clinic helps church minister to needy in New Orleans. Monica Arnold

by Christine Gutleben

Community service 

In March of 2010 The HSUS co-hosted a free pet clinic with Church of the King in New Orleans. This was the moment I realized the potential impact churches could have on their communities by helping animals. Church of the King attracted twice as many people to their community service event by adding veterinary services alongside medical and dental care.

At another clinic we hosted with Jonesboro Heights Baptist Church in Sanford, N.C., more than 500 people came for vaccinations and checkups. People waited several hours in hopes of being able to provide their beloved companions with basic care.

Over half of American households have a cat or dog, and in many cases, animals provide a critical source of companionship. As Pastor Randy Craighead of Church of the King put it:

"For some people, their pets are all they have, and seeing the animals receive treatment means everything to them … Indeed, when we care for animals, we care for people."

And yet, there are very few opportunities for free or low-cost care. Faith communities have a tremendous opportunity here to serve a great need and many of them are responding. See the impact this ministry can have on a community.

Coming to the table 

This fall, we hosted an unprecedented summit meeting for religious leaders in Washington, D.C. Best-selling authors and speakers, megachurch pastors, CEOs of faith-based organizations and companies, seminary professors, and more expressed concern over the widespread systematic abuse of animals in this country and a commitment to helping us shed light on the issues.

In many respects, this meeting was the culmination of all that we’ve worked toward for the past four years. It marked a defining moment whereby animal protection advocates and major faith leaders found fellowship in one another and a shared vision for a more compassionate world. During the meeting, C.S. Lewis Scholar and Wheaton Professor Dr. Gerald Root delivered a stirring presentation on C.S. Lewis as Advocate for Animals . The CEO of Walden Media, Michael Flaherty, shared his perspective on the power of story and how it can help animals, and David Kinnaman, President of the Barna Group, shed light on how faith influences our views of animals. The HSUS and guests also had the pleasure of meeting with the director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Joshua Dubois. We'll continue to share the unfolding reflections and outcomes of the meeting in the months ahead.

Inspiration found, shared

We found inspiration from church members around the country who were serving their communities by helping animals and created our Animal Protection Ministries Guide. The three main sections of the guide focus on pets, wildlife and farm animals and include pastor reflections, resources, ideas and more. Reverend Dr. Richard Mouw, President of Fuller Seminary, encourages church members and leaders to check it out:

"As the Christian tradition reawakens to the human responsibility for stewardship of God's creation, it is crucial for churches to have practical ways to put these ideas into practice."

Hundreds of churches from coast to coast ordered our St. Francis Day in a Box! toolkit to help celebrate St. Francis Day on Oct. 4. This program continues to grow by including new materials and attracting new pastors. This year, the box included the Oscar-winning documentary "The Cove," among other great tools.

During the year, screenings of our film, "Eating Mercifully," were held at Biola University, the Graduate Theological Union, Wesley Theological Seminary and Liberty University to name a few. And we continue to receive daily online requests which have made it one of HSUS’ most popular films.

Spotlight on faith and animal welfare

Another example of the growing interest in the intersection of faith and animal welfare were the invitations we received to share our work at conferences and events across the country. A few highlights include presentations at the Seventh Day Adventist World Headquarters in Silver Spring, Md., the Religious Communicators Conference in Chicago, Ill., and the American Academy of Religion Conference in Atlanta, Ga.

Media outlets and publishers also recognized this interest, a few highlights include:

This year was a humbling experience for all of us at The HSUS as we witnessed people of faith heed the call of compassion. We are grateful for the opportunity to have worked with such graceful, talented, thoughtful leaders and individuals like you who are working to spread kindness to all creatures.

Christine Gutleben is director of the Faith Outreach program of The Humane Society of the United States.

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