Captain was a cat, and the beloved companion of the Reverend Ruth Monette and her partner, Melissa. Just prior to Ruth’s incumbency at St. Stephen the Martyr, Burnaby in the spring of 2018, Captain had reached age 17. His quality of life had declined dramatically and the time had come for his life to end. Captain had lived in 4 cities with Ruth and Melissa, helped them complete 3 degrees and welcomed children into their family. Ruth, in speaking with others at the church discovered that a recurring theme was the depth of relationship that we have with our pets and the question arose, “how we can honour their lives and what they’ve meant to us?”
In an email from Rev. Monette following the Blessing liturgy celebrated on October 20, she wrote about the death of Captain, and how the St. Stephen’s Pet Memorial Garden came to be:
“Captain was my first experience being the adult dealing with having a pet euthanized (we'd had many different pets through my childhood and teen years, but I wasn't the one making the decisions in those days) and the idea that I could have his ashes was new to me. So I was talking to folks at St. Stephen’s about the dynamics of being offered personalized cremation for my cat and how easily we could have agreed to that and then have had these ashes for ever. And as the grief shifts, what do you do with the ashes? Particularly for cats... I feel like dogs might have favourite spots where you could discretely scatter ashes…Later we got talking about how many of the parish's immediate neighbours live in apartments with no land to bury a pet (or their ashes) and how many of them have, because of strata rules, little dogs that live 15-20 years… But then before I really knew it, lay leaders at St Stephen's were running with the idea of creating a pet memorial garden. Colleen Butterley and Roxee Forrest took the lead on most of the work on the actual space.
We also did some work figuring out any legal issues (which is where I learned that basically the only issue is not co-mingling human and animal remains) and sought permission from the Archbishop in June 2019, and began working on creating the space that summer.
A generous donor provided the bulk of the funding. Several smaller donations have come in to support it as well. We began with Judy Packer, a landscaper, cleaning up the space and the cedar tree where St, Francis is now. She also came back and put in a concrete slab for St. Francis to stand on. Ital Decor on Hastings created the St. Francis statue and the bowl and bench. That took extra time because they had to create the St Francis mold -- he was in their catalogue, but they'd never made him before. A parishioner, Andy Holisky, created a cedar lid for the bowl. All in, we spent about $10,000 (some of the landscaping came from Memorial Garden maintenance funds).
Everything was scheduled to be in by late spring 2020, but the pandemic delayed things and the concrete items were installed in July. October 20 was the soonest after we'd entered Phase 3 (limited in-person attendance at parish worship and events at churches in the diocese of New Westminster) that we could get Archbishop Melissa here."
The Service of Blessing on October 20 was about 40 minutes and there were approximately 20 people in attendance. The liturgy began with prayers and an invocation and was followed by three readings from Scripture: Job 12:7-10; Psalm 104:24, 28b-30; Matthew 10:27-31. Following the proclamation of the Gospel, Archbishop Skelton offered a brief homily taking the reading from Job for her text. The archbishop spoke about the importance of animals in our lives and her decision to bring her pet Westie, “Teddy” into her life. In her sermon she said:
"When with fear and trembling or with impulsiveness or with great joy we decide to invite a pet into our home and into our lives, we fall into grace, a grace we did not work or earn our way into. It is a grace that lies below and beyond. It comes to us unbidden and comes to us in ways we could have never arranged for ourselves.
And this is really what a life in God is all about, isn’t it? We make decisions, not all of them well-advised, about the people we love, the jobs we take and the pets we allow into our lives. And then from these decisions we are propelled upon a journey full of challenges, full of new things to learn and full of the many graces that come our way from these seemingly simple, little decisions that are God’s opportunity to teach us, to challenge us and to bless us."
Archbishop Skelton’s ministry and her dedication to the development and sustainability of the parish has had special meaning for Rev. Monette and the people of St. Stephen the Martyr, Burnaby:
"Because Archbishop Melissa’s visit to bless the garden would also be her last visit to our parish before her retirement, Parish Council wanted to honour her with a gift. We ultimately decided on two items. The Hope Bear from the Anglican Foundation in its bishop finery (and a maple leaf sweater for causal wear/retirement). And we added a tree to the Memorial Garden donated by Colleen Butterly (a Pink-A-Boo Camellia) to honour her episcopal ministry among us for the past 7 years.
Archbishop Skelton’s commitment to healthy parishes of many different sizes and her belief that every one of our parishes has the potential to thrive has been vital to St Stephen's. The parish could easily have collapsed completely under the pressures of the early 2000s when they had more dreams that didn't work out than did and a long period of part-time clergy which they took as a sign of their impending closure. Having a bishop who believed in the Parish of St. Stephen’s helped them find hope and invest in themselves.”
We asked Rev. Monette to share some information for people who may want to participate in the St. Stephen’s Pet Memorial Garden.
"The Garden is open to anyone who is looking for a permanent place for their pets' ashes. We have modified a service from the Episcopal Church created for the Loss of a Pet that a clergy person or a lay volunteer will lead for folks if desired. Or, we will take the ashes and place them in the bowl without a service. We're in the process of adding to our website a virtual memorial book. There are modest fees for the placing of ashes to offset the costs and maintain a fund for garden upkeep.”
Photos by Wayne Chose