The Church of England is poised to consider the baptism of animals for the first time, it was announced today.
The ruling General Synod, which is next scheduled to meet in July, will consider an advisory report compiled by a panel of bishops and others entitled All of God's Creation.
Synod members will be asked to consider the implications of introducing a liturgy for pets 'in the light of an emerging consensus about the value of the environment and an increasing consciousness of animal sentience and awareness', the report says.
Speaking at a press conference to highlight the report's main findings, Rt Revd James Graham, the committee chair, said: 'The kingdom of God is about renewing all of creation, including the created order. It would be possible, therefore, to envisage a situation where dogs and cats and other pets could be ceremonially sprinkled with water to symbolise their full inclusion in the renewal of all things.'
Pressed on whether this could be described as 'animal baptism', the Bishop said: 'In a manner of speaking, it might be seen that way by some.'
He added: 'In the past we have seen humankind as in some way distinctive, special and set apart. Now science advises us that many characteristics we once believed to be limited to men and women are shared with other species, including kindness and empathy. The Christian god is surely one who will welcome any created being with these characteristics fully into his kingdom.'
'After all, look at what I have in common with monkeys and chimpanzees – we're all primates,' the bishop joked, as an unamused press corps sat stony-faced in front of him.
Asked how animals would be able to make baptismal vows, Bishop James said: 'It's amazing what animals can do. I've trained my dog to play Widor's Toccata at weddings, and if you weren't looking, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference in quality from that of many regular human organists. It's just a bit tricky cleaning between the pedals afterwards.'
The report was attached by conservative Anglicans as being 'Anglicanism at its most wishy-washy'. A spokesman for a group which claims to be more conservative than anyone else said: 'What is it again? Whatever it is, we're against it. We're always against. Now look, I've got to go as this probably means I am out of communion with you.'
But a spokesperson for a liberal group said: 'How lovely! What a nice idea. Actually, between you and me, we've been doing this in our parish for years. We use milk for cats though, otherwise they tend to scratch. And we had terrible trouble when someone's pet spider escaped down the font overflow hole.'
The Synod is expected to ask for a further report, which Bishop James said would probably be published on April 1, 2019, a year to the day after today's publication.
David Baker is a former daily newspaper journalist now working as an Anglican minister in Sussex, England. Find him on Twitter @Baker_David_A