Rabbits, rats and horses are expected in addition to the regular flock at a church near Malmesbury.

All Saints’ Church, Oaksey, is holding a pet service, the first of its kind in the parish for more than a decade.

Children are invited to bring their animals, large or small, for a special blessing.

One of the organisers, Miriam Nicholls, said: “We haven’t done one of these services for about ten years.

“You can bring anything – it could be a rat or a rabbit, or even a pony.”

The church is used to having animals around – at Christmas a pony is used in the nativity production.

Mrs Nicholls said: “The last time we did this we had a couple of rather big horses come along. I would expect we will probably get a pony or two this time as well.”

Far from being a circus, however, the service offers a good opportunity for the church to reach out to a wider section of the community.

Mrs Nicholls said: “It is designed to be a real family service. It will be very simple and not too formal.

“If the weather is good, we will hold it outdoors. If it is raining, the animals will all be welcome inside.

“The aim is to involve families and youngsters.

“It shows we are not just interested in those who attend services every week or every month, but other people too.

“People’s pets are important to them and also important to Jesus, too, as it says in the Bible.”

The service takes place on September 9 at 4pm.