Bless this tortoise

16 October 2008

by Margaret Duggan

IT WAS NOT meant to be an animal-blessing service of the sort that brings all the children with their pets. When the Anglican Society for the Welfare of Animals (ASWA) holds its annual ecumenical service, usually in a cathedral, it chooses a serious theme for the occasion: last year it was the fur trade; this year it was battery-egg production.

Preaching in Rochester Cathedral, the Bishop, Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, said that battery cages, in which hens are “held captive”, were a symbol of what had gone wrong in our relationship with our fellow creatures. “Things are not as they should be,” he said. The freeing of animals was a biblical principle, and the term “free-range” came directly from the Bible.

  The Dean of Ro­chester, the Very Revd Adrian Newman, picked up the theme. He said it was a sad indictment that it had taken celebrity chefs to bring the public’s attention to the way birds were farmed.

During the service, which had been put together by the Revd Hugh Broadbent, the Vicar of St John’s, Bromley, two battery cages (“well cleaned-up”, says Samantha Chandler of ASWA) were at the front of the congregation, and people were invited to come and collect egg-shaped cards printed with a prayer written by Mr Broadbent.

It was all slightly over the head of one small boy who had brought his pet tortoise, Nettle, expecting quite a different sort of service. But Dr Nazir-Ali spotted him in the congrega­tion, and went to give Nettle the blessing the boy was hoping for (above left).

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