Unitarian Universalist Church of Olinda
news of our historic UU church in Ruthven (Kingsville), Ontario

About Unitarian Universalist Church of Olinda

Unitarian Universalist Church Of Olinda Photograph This church was founded on the faith that love is a more positive force for good than fear. It exists as a haven of religious freedom, offering fellowship, knowledge and inspiration to all who would seek truth, live responsibly and courageously, and be of service to humanity.


Publications available in celebration of 140th Anniversary

December 11th, 2020 . by William Baylis

In Celebration of the UU Church of Olinda’s 140th Anniversary the following two publications are now available for you to have your own copies.

  1. Universalists in Ontario by Louise Foulds
    A Centennial Project of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Olinda – 1980 Revised Second Edition for the 125th Anniversary of the Church – 2005
  2. The Little Church at the Crossroads By Jane Innerd
    A Brief History of the First 120 Years of The Unitarian Universalist Church of Olinda together with A History of the Years 2000 to 2020. In Celebration of the 140th Anniversary of the church.

To order, please download either the pdf or the word version of the attached flyer and complete the order form on the second page.

You are welcome to attend our Sunday Services

February 3rd, 2019 . by William Baylis

Services begin at 10:30 AM on Sundays and last about one hour. Children are invited to attend religious education classes during the service. Weather permitting, we meet every Sunday between Labour Day and the end of June and once a month in July and August. About three services every month are given by our new minister, the Reverend Rod Emilio Solano-Quesnel and typically include an engaging sermon on a  timely topic. Other services often feature an invited guest speaker. Services are usually followed by good tea, coffee, and conversation. Please see the monthly newsletter on this site for scheduled sermons, speakers, and musicians. We welcome atheists, agnostics, and theists, pagans, humanists, Christians, members of other religious faiths and from LGTBQ communities and others seeking fellowship, knowledge, and inspiration.

The UU Church of Olinda is a welcoming congregation

September 5th, 2014 . by William Baylis

UUA Chalice Rainbow You are welcome here!welcominglogo_200

A Reading from the Minutes

June 26th, 2022 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Opening Hymn #65 The Sweet June Days
~)-| Words: Samuel Longfellow, 1819-1892
Music: English melody, arr. by Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1872-1958,
used by perm. of Oxford University Press

First Unitarian Church of Baltimore – 20 June, 2022

Flower Celebration

Our Church members shared flowers in-person, as well as photo flower offerings on a shared slideshow.

You can view a PDF version of the Flower Photo Slide Show here!

(Photos shared with permission)

Hymn #78 Color and Fragrance
~)-| Words: Norbert F. Capek, 1870-1942
~)-| trans. by Paul and Anita Munk, © 1992 Unitarian Universalist Association
~)-| English version by Grace Ulp, 1926-
~)-| Music: Norbert F. Capek, 1870-1942

Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Charleston WV (16 May, 2021)

Sermon – A Reading from the Minutes – Rev. Rod


Read: [Printable PDF document available for download]

Every once in a while, a friendly rivalry makes the rounds between the Unitarian Church of Montreal and the Universalist Unitarian Church of Halifax, particularly around the times of their respective anniversaries, with each of them staking a claim for the oldest Canadian congregation in our denomination.

The Unitarian Church of Montreal celebrates its anniversary in June, and that is when it sometimes makes its claim of maximal longevity, as it was founded in 1842.

Not so fast – says the Universalist Unitarian Church of Halifax – yes, Montreal may be the oldest Unitarian congregation in Canada, but the Halifax church was founded as a Universalist congregation in 1837 – this is a heritage that is still reflected in its name, as it places the Universalist “u” before the other one.

It is usually at this point when I point out that Olinda claims the oldest building in continuous use by either a Universalist, a Unitarian, or a Unitarian Universalist church (in Canada) – and we have the historical plaque to prove it.

But technical quibbles aside, there is one aspect in these founding stories that reminds me that the churches in these two traditions have quite a bit in common… aside from the fact that they’re now part of the same amalgamated tradition.

When the Church of Montreal was founded in late June of 1842, the assembly drafting its emerging constitution debated something that would have been considered a thorny issue (at the time) – whether they would allow membership for folks who accepted the doctrine of the Trinity.

This specific theological point might not seem particularly troubling to current UUs these days, but the emerging Unitarians in 19th-century Montreal had endured sidelining by the mainline trinitarian churches, and there was a question around how graceful they were prepared to be in their membership requirements around questions of religious doctrine.

This debate was documented in the minutes of the constitutional drafting meeting.  And when the Montreal church celebrated its 170th anniversary, ten years ago in 2012, it actually did a ritual reading of these minutes as one of the morning readings.

I won’t go into the line-by-line reading of those minutes here, but I can offer a bit of a play-by-play, to give you an idea of how this shaped up.  Essentially, in that 1842 meeting, a motion was made to forbid membership to anyone who did not formally denounce the doctrine of the Trinity.  If adopted, the Montreal church would be – from then on – intentionally excluding individuals based on a matter of faith…

The resounding majority response was that a test of faith would be antithetical to the founding character of the Unitarian church, which had been forged by a tradition of espousing freedom of religious thought.

The motion was defeated.

A test of faith would not be implemented at the new Unitarian Church of Montreal – perhaps this Unitarian church was more Universalist than it might have given itself credit for, having taken such a step toward radical inclusion.

That doesn’t mean that, in our shared histories, we don’t continue to seek a balance between promoting freedom of thought, while also establishing norms of respectful behaviour toward each other, but personal religious and spiritual beliefs are not in themselves a barrier to membership and participation in our congregations.

It was this very mindset that inspired the origin of one of our tradition’s homegrown holidays – the Flower Celebration – created by Norbert ?apek at the Liberal Religious Fellowship, a Unitarian congregation in Prague, in what was then Czechoslovakia.

?apek created this Flower Celebration quite intentionally to ensure that everyone could take part in it, including anyone who had been, or felt, excluded by some other churches from their bread and wine communions.  This was another Unitarian creation that gave witness to a Universalist approach for radical inclusion.

If you’ve heard this story before – and we like to reprise it from time to time – you might remember that ?apek’s life ended tragically during World War II in the Dachau concentration camp.  The official crime that he was charged with was listening to foreign broadcasts – a capital offence.  He is on record as having died for the sake of listening to the voices against tyranny.

Today, we remember his commitment to a broadminded approach toward inclusivity.  And we have honoured his legacy by re-enacting the ritual he created as a practice of inclusion.  Not only is everyone invited to participate, but everyone is invited to partake in the enjoyment of the flower gifts offered by others, whether or not you were able to make an offering today.  In fact, over the past two years, we have expanded this option to participate, whether or not you were able to be here in person.

And in the same way, my friends, we honour the minutes of a founding meeting of the Unitarian Church of Montreal, in which a practice of radical inclusion – a universalism of sorts – was enacted.

Because, my friends, even when it doesn’t use that label, the Universalist spirit is alive in our tradition.  The spirit of intentional inclusion, the spirit of active inclusion, the spirit of radical inclusion, is alive in our tradition.

My friends, may we continue the Universalist imperative.

So may it be,
In the spirit of inclusion,

Copyright © 2022 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Closing Hymn #66 When the Summer Sun Is Shining
~)-| Words: Sydney Henry Knight, 1923-
Music: From The Southern Harmony, 1855, arr. by Margaret W. Mealy, b. 1922, © 1984 Margaret W. Mealy

Unitarian Universalist Church Utica (1 August, 2021)

Suzanne Grouette – Howard Pawley Memorial Lecture

June 19th, 2022 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Main #21 For the Beauty of the Earth
Words: Folliott Sandford Pierpont, 1835-1917, adapt.
Music: Conrad Kocher, 1786-1872, abridged
Tune DIX

Michael Tacy (11 November, 2020)

Howard Pawley Memorial Lecture, with Suzanne Grouette


Closing Hymn #112 Do You Hear?
~)-| Words: Emily L. Thorn, 1915-, © 1992 Unitarian Universalist Association
Music: William Caldwell’s Union Harmony, 1837,
harmony by Eugene Wilson Hancock, 1929- , © 1984 Eugene Hancock

Michael Tacy (24 July, 2020)

Ordinary Time

June 12th, 2022 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Opening Hymn #1 Prayer for this House
Words: Louis Untermeyer, 1885-1977, © 1923 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, renewed 1951 by Louis Untermeyer, reprinted by perm. of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company
Music: Robert N. Quaile, b. 1867

Nick Sienkiewicz for
UU Community Church of SW Michigan (22 October, 2021)

Sermon – Ordinary Time – Rev. Rod


Read: [Printable PDF available for download]

When I began seminary as a Unitarian Universalist guest at a college from the United Church of Canada, I was quite welcome to bring along my own theology and spiritual outlook – we had much overlap in our approaches after all.  There were, however, some house rules. 

Whenever it was my turn to lead the Wednesday worship for my peers, I was required to use the common lectionary, following the liturgical year that the United Church shares with many mainline churches.  I was free to include as much Unitarian Universalist material or interpretation as made sense to me, but at least one of the readings needed to come from that week’s lectionary.

This seemed to me like a reasonable request by my host, as they were also offering generous accommodation for me as a spiritual guest, and I saw it as an exciting challenge that would invite me to get better acquainted with my peers’ scripture, tradition, and practice.

So, I became quite acquainted with the United Church’s hymnal, Voices United, where you would find a very specific calendar with a three-year cycle, and each year being labeled A, B, and C (we’re on year C, if you’re wondering).  And each of these years has specific biblical readings for a given week, along with designated weeks for times of anticipation and fasting, such as Advent and Lent, as well as holidays like Christmas and Easter, which are more familiar to us.  There are also additional feasts and observances, like an entire season for Epiphany, following Christmas (the Epiphany season actually spans several weeks, beyond the single day that I mention from time to time), as well as Pentecost, following Easter.

In some churches, the rest of the year has the rather inspiring label of “Ordinary Time” (though the United Church uses the label of “Proper” time).  And, as it happens, this past week marks our return to this Ordinary Time.

The “Ordinary Time” tag might give the impression that this is the boring time when nothing interesting happens or is worth observing.  And while there may be less pageantry involved, with fewer observances, or holidays with lesser brand recognition than those in early winter and spring, this isn’t really any kind of “throwaway” time, as if church somehow stoped mattering or spiritual growth took a backseat.  On the contrary, it’s a time when space can be given toward deeper contemplation about what the other special times have raised up.

The story of incarnation that comes with Christmas, or the message of resurrection that comes with Easter, can resonate throughout the year.  In this way, the people of the church might be invited to explore how these transcendent themes may be present in their lives and the lives of their communities.

Sunday itself can be considered an echo of sorts for the story of Easter.  This may come by invoking the story itself, as happens weekly in many churches, as well as in inviting a renewal of inspiration in each congregant’s life and opportunities to reveal hidden holiness in the apparent ordinariness of everyday living.

In the same way that the “ordinary” weekdays offer a time to live the spirituality that comes from the weekend renewal of Sunday, so does Ordinary Time offer a kind of “weekdays” of the year, in which to live out the pageantry evoked by the year’s “weekend” of the major winter and spring holidays.

One feature of our Unitarian Universalist tradition is that our liturgical calendar tends to be quite flexible.  We tend to have rather few “prescribed” holidays, and even these might vary between congregations, or even in the same community from time to time.

At Olinda, we happen to celebrate, in some way or another, Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas with regularity.  And we often observe elements of the preparatory seasons for some of these, such as Advent, as well as Lent.  We’ve also taken on the practice of commemorating our dead toward the beginning of November, and certain months invite us to pay special attention to certain matters of social justice, such as February and Black History; or June, which often includes awareness about Indigenous peoples as well as LGBTQ+ Pride.  And other designated days come up from time to time.

We also have some of our tradition’s own homegrown holiday observances, such as the Water Ceremony at the beginning of September, and our Flower Celebration in a couple of weeks.

So, we do indeed follow a liturgical calendar of sorts, though it may be a bit more fluid than what many mainline churches have established.

However it is that our liturgical calendar may be, or the specific seasons and holidays we may choose to observe, we still find ourselves with weeks and Sundays that may not seem to immediately call for a particular theme or focus… we have our own sense of “ordinary time”.

And it is during these times that we may explore and strengthen the deeper awareness that may have come from the designated “special” times.  That is why we don’t stop talking about Pride or about Indigenous matters at the end of June – we carry that prophetic imperative through other days and months, and we revisit that awareness on other “ordinary” Sundays.  We may have guests that speak to Reconciliation in June, but we also have those conversations or guests in other months.  We may participate in Pride advocacy in June, or August, or any other time we are called to do so.

We might make special time in February to get better acquainted with Black history, and we then continue to consider how we might be part of anti-racism work during the year.  We make a regular practice of commemorating our dead at the beginning of November, but that does not mean that we don’t also honour our ancestors and our loved ones gone before at other times of the year, sometimes in other special ceremonies, and sometimes during quiet times in our hearts.

We don’t just talk about Naloxone and harm-reduction on that one time when we invited Overdose Prevention Windsor to offer a workshop; we bring up the different dimensions of drugs, benign and dangerous ones, legal and illicit, in different discussions at different times.  We consider our own use of socially-accepted drugs, such as coffee.  And we may check out the free Naloxone trainings and kits that we can get at most local pharmacies on just about any ordinary day.

Week to week, many of us gather as a church on Sunday, to make some intentional time for contemplation and open up space for inspiration.  But, of course, the ordinary time of our lives, which happens during the rest of the week is not any less important – in fact, it is the time when we get to apply the renewed sense of call that we might find on a given Sunday.  Sometimes this might be something in the weekly message that has resonated, or it might be a hymn or song that has become part of the soundtrack of your life, or it might be a connection that you’ve made among the community, and now have opportunities to follow up on, and fulfill them in a deeper way.

Church may be where we remember the practice of being human, and we cultivate this practice during the ordinary time of our ordinary days, that every casual corner may bloom into a shrine.

My friends, in a couple of weeks, we’ll be winding down our church’s program year.  For many of us, summer might offer some additional opportunities for rest and renewal, and perhaps have a few more “lower-key” days.  There will be some holidays along the way, maybe even a couple of church services, but the ordinary days of summer may give some time to reconnect with the extraordinary times, places, and people of our lives.

My friends, the times that come outside of church are precisely the times to be church, beyond our walls.

My friends, may ordinary time be the time to live what is special.

So may it be,
In this ordinary, and blessed, time,

Copyright © 2022 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Closing Hymn #354 We Laugh, We Cry
~)-| Words & Music: Shelley Jackson Denham, 1950- , © 1980 Shelley Jackson Denham,
~)-| harmony by Betsy Jo Angebrandt, 1931- , © 1992 UUA

Voices of Reason (6 May, 2021)

Between Elections

June 5th, 2022 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Opening Hymn #1 Prayer for this House
Words: Louis Untermeyer, 1885-1977, © 1923 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, renewed 1951 by Louis Untermeyer, reprinted by perm. of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company
Music: Robert N. Quaile, b. 1867

Steph and Les Tacy (23 March, 2021)

Time for All Ages – “Is there a good reason for NOT voting?” (Politics Unboringed)
by Jay Foreman

An exploration of the importance of voting. This one is from a United Kingdom perspective, though most of the observations still apply in Canada.

“Is there a good reason for NOT voting?” (Politics Unboringed) by Jay Foreman

Sermon – Between Elections – Rev. Rod


Read: [Printable PDF available for download]

One of the first courses I took in my ministerial formation happened to include a class on the same day as an election date.  And while my schedule was certainly busy with part-time work and studies, it was also flexible enough that day, so that I managed to drop by the voting place on my way to class (it helped that the place was literally on my way to the school).  This was fortunate, as the class that evening would have gone for about three hours and would have ended just as the polls were closing.

When I got to the class, I saw that the professor had arranged a lighter program than usual – it was mostly a question-and-answer period relating to some of our readings or upcoming assignments.  About a half-hour-to-an-hour in, he asked if there were any more questions, and when no one else raised their hand, he told us that, instead of the regular mid-class break, the class was dismissed, as there was nothing else that couldn’t wait until after the election, and he wanted to ensure that those two extra hours were available for folks to vote.

I respected the principle of the professor’s decision, though I admit I was somewhat let down that I’d gone to the class for such a short session, being that I had already voted and didn’t really get much benefit from the special dispensation he had given to the class.  I also wondered how many of my fellow students would actually take advantage of this newfound opportunity.

One of my classmates shared part of the bus route home with me.  I asked her if she had any plans for the newly-found free time.  It so happened that she’d been at school all day, and her home was too far to make a trip to her polling place in between classes.  “I think I might actually get back in time to vote!” she said.

And there was one answer to what I’d been wondering on my way out of the class that had been dismissed early.  And I realized that, just because things had already worked out nicely for me, other folks really could benefit from proactive action to ensure there’d be space for them to vote.

Even with some reduced class time, that professor taught me something.  And last week, I took that lesson to heart, by moving my Café Drop-in’s time one hour later, so that its timing wouldn’t conflict with the polling hours and no one would be in a position where they’d have to choose between one or the other.

I really don’t know if anyone ended up needing that time, or if they took advantage of it.  But what I’ve learned, is that sometimes, it is important to cultivate the practice of consideration for others’ needs, even if it isn’t always obvious when someone has benefitted from it.

Over the past few elections there have been a number of options added to the electoral system to enhance the possibility that people who are eligible to vote, and wish to do so, can do so.  This includes expanding the number of advance polling dates, making voting by mail an option for everyone, and allowing for same-day registration to the voters’ list (I myself benefitted from this later option on at least one occasion).

These are good practices to observe and support… and plenty of options remain to be explored.  Some are as simple as making voter ID procedures clearer and simpler to understand, as well as making sure most people who would ordinarily be able to vote can access those ID requirements with minimal hassle – particularly marginalized folks.

Another method that has been proposed – and in some countries, implemented – is making election days statutory holidays, to minimize the possibility that folks might need to choose between the right to vote and the competing demands of work, family, sustenance, and health.

This past week, for instance, even though there were a whole 12 hours allotted for the polls, someone who works regular business hours, commutes from work, and makes time for a wholesome dinner (or needs time to prepare it), might only have a 1-hour window to vote… even with a “free evening”.  That may be just enough time, but even one added responsibility, such as family or healthcare duties, might reduce that window so that voting might no longer be a practical option.

Following a provincial election that has a record-low turnout, accessibility to voting is one part of the conversation that we are called to keep in mind and keep pursuing.

Of course, we know that it’s more complicated than that.  There are plenty of other reasons why people don’t vote.  These range from dissatisfaction with the electoral system, such as the first-past-the-post dynamic, to general dissatisfaction with the candidates.  And these are but aspects of a certain sense that the act of voting may have little bearing on the outcome of who is elected to govern and what decisions these officials might make.

Indeed, a sense of disaffection with the process and lack of agency in the decision-making process is often cited as a major reason why voter turnouts have consistently dwindled over the past several decades.

And yet, even if you feel your one vote won’t change the outcome of an election, no matter how it is that you voted still gives information about where the public will is – even spoiled ballots offer a measure of voter disaffection.

I’ve been spending quite a bit of space here on voting and voting accessibility, and that’s because voting really is an important part of the democratic process.  The risk lies on focusing on voting as the only, or the most important part of the process (as important as it is).

The adage that democracy is what happens between elections holds truths about where else people may engage in the decisions that affect all of us.

Democracy also happens in the community engagement with individuals and organizations that advocate for the diverse needs of the people.  It happens in direct engagement with the elected officials that represent us – whether or not we voted for them.  It happens when we stay informed about the news that affect our communities and when we hold these matters in conversation with those around us, our families, our friends, and our wider communities.  It even happens in the mundane tasks of looking after our communities – the paperwork, the maintenance, the connections with the people that leaders serve.

In our church, our governance happens in many places.  Votes are involved, but these are often confirmations of other important work, discussions, and potential decisions that have already been prepared with substantial legwork in the background.  The votes are part of the mechanism of accountability, ensuring that we give active endorsement of the work of governance, but they are, in reality, a small portion of the work of the people, by our people, for our people.

Much of our democratic process involves looking after each other and our spaces; connecting in visits, phone calls and e-mails; even filing paperwork from time to time.  This year, our Governance Documents Committee has been spending much time in formalizing the roles and tasks of different church bodies.  Some votes are involved, but the bulk of the democratic work goes into thinking about how we want to handle our church business.

Even simply showing up, when possible, for community gatherings and events, is part of how we build the community, and become part of the decisions that affect it.

Last year, the Canadian Unitarian Council – which includes all of you who are members of this church, spent a lot of time and attention toward the adoption of our 8th Principle.  Many of you might recall that it was, at times, a messy process.  And after several months of discussion and deliberation, a vote last November confirmed its adoption, with a very high – though not unanimous – degree of approval, at 95% of the delegate vote.

That vote did not happen in isolation and it was not the only important part of the process.  For many people, the discussions, workshops, and learning that happened along the way may have been even more significant, whether or not they ended up supporting the final vote.

As is often the case, not everyone was happy with the outcome, but it was an outcome that followed, as diligently as possible, the process we had in place.

Part of that process included a discussion on the very processes we use to make decisions like these, as well as many other decisions that we need to make as a denomination at the national level.

For this reason, one of the additional outcomes that came in the wake of adopting the 8th Principle – and in fact an example of its practice – was the creation of a Decision-making Exploration Team.  Its name reflects its goal to explore options in decision-making processes that may serve us better in including a variety of voices and creating more spaces for participation, so that the outcomes of our collective decisions may better reflect the needs of our communities.

It doesn’t mean that everyone will always be happy with every aspect of every decision – that’s likely to be an unattainable goal – but the team will look for ways of providing better spaces so that most folks may be satisfied with the process and may feel comfortable with the decisions that come out of it, even when they’re not always everyone’s preferred outcome.

Many models are on the table and being explored, including ideas of sociocracy and varieties of consensus-building mechanisms.  Even the status quo, which relies heavily on established systems such as Robert’s Rules of Order, continue to be on the table.  (It is entirely possible that our current system could remain as is, and if we collectively decide to do that, it would be an intentional decision, rather than simply a matter of inertia because it’s what we’ve been doing all along.)

Part of the process of exploring these processes included centring the presence and voices of youth and young adults, and people of colour, who are often not well represented in our communities.  This doesn’t mean that others don’t have a voice in this process, it simply means that we’re intentionally making space for voices that might not have had as much space before.

My friends, you can be part of this process.  This week, you are invited to respond to a survey on decision-making processes, and you have until the end of the month, June 30, to complete it.  This is not the only place where you can be part of the conversation, but it is an important place that has been intentionally set out for you.  There will be other discussions coming up, and they will be made richer by the information that comes from this survey.  And there will be votes involved at different times.  Those votes will also be important, but they will not be the only parts of the process that matter.

My friends, the democratic process is part of our collective soul, and being part of it can be far more involved and enriching when we make space for it, when we seek out the opportunities to be part of it, and when we intentionally make space for as many of us to be part of it as possible.

My friends, our principles become alive when we practice them in every casual corner of our community.

So may it be,
Working together in between elections,

Copyright © 2022 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Closing Hymn #300 With Heart and Mind
~)-| Words: Alicia S. Carpenter, 1930- , © 1990 Alicia S. Carpenter
Music: Johann Hermann Schein, 1586-1630, harmony by J. S. Bach, 1685-1750

First Unitarian Church of Baltimore (24 January, 2021)

Memorial Service for John Haynes

June 3rd, 2022 . by William Baylis

A memorial service for long-time member John Haynes, who died on February 11, is planned at the church starting at 2 pm on Saturday, June 18, 2022. All are welcome.

June 2022 Newsletter

June 1st, 2022 . by William Baylis

Click here and enjoy!

Period Piece

May 29th, 2022 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Opening Hymn #57 All Beautiful the March of Days
~)-| Words: Frances Whitmarsh Wile, 1878-1939
Music: English melody, arr. by Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1872-1958
used by perm. of Oxford University Press

Community Unitarian Universalist Church of White Plains

Time for All Ages

Red is the Colour – Menstrual Hygiene Day 2022

Sermon – Period Piece – Rev. Rod


Read: [Printable PDF available for download]

Last November, I spoke about one of the lesser-known international observances: World Toilet Day.  And we explored how, even though that day of observance may seem to have a somewhat comical undertone, it deals with serious issues of access to sanitation as a matter of public health, a factor in public safety, an exercise in social equity, and a recognition of personal dignity.

I shared at the time how, as a kid, I had been too embarrassed to ask my dad about how toilets worked or how they were invented… even though he had always been willing to explain to me the stories of invention – and the mechanics behind – things like Velcro, dynamite, and the telegraph.  And one could argue that sanitation and plumbing technologies have been just as – or even more – impactful advances for society as those other inventions.

Yesterday, May 28 was a similar lesser-known international observance: Menstrual Hygiene Day.

Now, waste sanitation and menstrual hygiene are not quite the same thing, which is why international health organisations feature these matters separately.  These two topics do, however, share some important overlaps.  Both deal with matters that are often taboo and are therefore not spoken about as often as other important subjects of social concern.  And… speaking about them is precisely the kind of life-saving practice that we could do with doing more of.

And matters of menstrual hygiene also impact public health and safety, as well as social equity and personal dignity.

Now, in many ways, I’m not the best person to be talking about this subject.  As a person who doesn’t menstruate – never have and don’t ever expect to – I have very limited capacity to speak about this experience with any authority.  Many of you will already have a much deeper understanding about that experience than I ever will, so I’ll do my best to avoid saying things that might already be painfully obvious to what is likely a majority of you.  And to be clear, I’m not looking to give specific health lessons or a how-to guide on hygiene – I’m rather looking to invite deeper exploration on the meaning of some of the conversations we’d do well to have more of.

Because, in some other ways, I may be precisely the kind of person who needs to speak about this subject more, insofar as I can be a collaborator and an ally in raising greater awareness about the importance of this conversation – especially for other folks who do not share in the experience of menstruation, and who might, therefore, not immediately share the same level of investment in that matter, as the people who have more direct experience with it.

Now, you might have noticed that I’ve been using the phrase “people – or persons – who menstruate”, rather than saying “women”.  And that is because we recognize that not all people who menstruate identify as women.  There are people with other gender identities who are in this category, so we honour that.  Conversely, there are women who do not, have not, or no longer menstruate, including trans women.

That’s not to say that there isn’t a largely gendered dimension to menstrual hygiene – it’s simply worth being mindful of who we are including in this conversation.

Also, my use of the word “menstruation” so often from the pulpit today, might have some of you on edge, and I admit that I feel some awkwardness about doing so myself.  It’s OK to notice this discomfort, as that is a step toward confronting that discomfort.

As it happens, it was through interactions with toilets that I was first exposed to some of the realities of menstruation.  As a child, I remember visiting a household bathroom and finding that… something hadn’t quite fully flushed.  Seeing red, I burst out of the bathroom wondering if something was seriously the matter with one of the family members that had previously used the bathroom.  And that is how I was first offered some calm explanations of what I had seen, and that it was entirely normal.  This happened more than once during my childhood, and I remember that it was useful for me to hear the explanation a few times to truly get the sense that this really was normal.  I should note that it was often the adult women in my childhood that took on this educational task. 

As an adult, and as a non-menstruating person, I continue to be grateful when I’m invited into this kind of conversation by the people who do.  It can sometimes feel awkward – I get a sense that I need to take off my shoes, as I tread on holy ground – I remind myself that I need to use caution in what I say, and more importantly, how I listen to these experiences, and offer support when I can and am asked to do so.

I have found it quite affirming that, where I live, many people who menstruate are indeed comfortable – or at least, comfortable enough – with speaking openly about that experience.  I am also mindful, that we are less likely to hear from the people who continue to feel uncomfortable about the matter due to shame or embarrassment, which is why I look be among the people who model bringing this up from time to time – when appropriate – because I see the importance for everyone in the general population to develop some sense of comfort in discussing menstrual hygiene and awareness about its related issues.

Failing to do so can lead to our larger society making uninformed decisions that affect a specific set of people… decisions that may be made by people who might not feel affected by those decisions.

Lately, there has been a resurgence of debate around reproductive choice.  And some of this debate sometimes reveals a lack of understanding about the lived experience of menstruation, and about what its related timelines can mean in matters of pregnancy.  I won’t go too much into that discussion today, as this can be quite an involved conversation in itself – only to say that public policy about sexual and reproductive health requires accurate understandings about biological processes that some of us may be less familiar with, including menstrual hygiene.

Beyond the health and social implications, there are the economic and environmental dimensions.  Over the past few days, I’ve run into a few news articles about the economics of menstruation in Canada, perhaps precisely because Menstrual Hygiene Day is in the calendar.

A major theme that I’ve seen in this reporting is that a number of government entities have been paying more attention to the issue that has been labeled period poverty, stemming from the additional costs of menstrual hygiene products, that some people find difficult to afford.  Public measures have been in different stages of implementation, from reducing or removing sales taxes on menstrual hygiene products, to subsidizing their cost, or even offering these for free, in some instances.

Awareness drives change.  Awareness demolishes barriers to inclusion.

There is also a growing industry around new menstrual hygiene products that aim to reduce economic and environmental impacts, by being reusable, from menstrual cups, to reusable pads, to washable period underwear, and even period swimsuits.  I can’t speak directly to the efficacy of these products, but I have heard and read reviews that many of these can be surprisingly effective and often preferable to the more traditional products.  The main aim for these has been to expand comfort and choice, as well as sustainability and affordability in the long run.

Awareness drives change.  Awareness demolishes barriers to inclusion.

There has also been a movement around expanding paid leave to cover days when the experience of menstruation may make attending work difficult.  There is some controversy around this, which I don’t feel qualified to comment about responsibly, but the fact that this discussion is happening tells me that a drive to reduce stigma and economic barriers is taking a greater foothold.

Awareness drives change.  Awareness demolishes barriers to inclusion.

Indeed, removing systemic barriers to inclusion is a major reason why this conversation, uncomfortable as it may sometimes be, is important for us to be part in, including by those of us who do not menstruate.

One roommate of mine had a practice of laying out a basket of disposable menstrual hygiene products on the tank of the toilet in our shared bathroom.  She didn’t use these particular products, but wanted to ensure that any guests who might need them would have minimal barriers to access them.  And even if our guests ended up not needing them at all, her practice also bore witness to intentional inclusion – effectively telling our guests: “you are welcome here, no matter your experience”.

I must have internalized part of this lesson from that roommate, because every once in a while, when I’m looking through my backpack or satchel, I still run into spare menstrual hygiene products that I packed at some point, just in case someone around me was in need of them.  I don’t know that I’ll ever be asked, but it looks like I might just be prepared to respond if I am.

My friends, awareness drives change, and awareness demolishes barriers to inclusion.

My friends, awkwardness and discomfort in difficult conversations is normal.  Identifying and confronting this discomfort, is a step in reducing it.

My friends, in this community, these conversations have a place.

So may it be,
Taking of our shoes, in the spirit of inclusion,

Copyright © 2022 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Closing Hymn #108 My Life Flows On in Endless Song
Words: Traditional, Verse 3 by Doris Plenn
Music: Robert Lowry, 1826-1899

First Unitarian Church of Chicago (17 May, 2020)

Just Words

May 8th, 2022 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Opening Hymn #182 O, the Beauty in a Life
~)-| Words: Based on a text by Bishop Toribio Quimada
Music: Traditional Visayan (Filipino) folk tune

Unitarian Universalist Church of the Philippines, Rev. Tet Gallardo (15 May, 2021)

Sermon – Just Words – Rev. Rod


Read: [Printable PDF document available for download]

My Old Testament professor happened to be an ordained Anglican priest.  Like most of my seminary professors, she was not a biblical literalist.  She understood that much of the scripture, if divinely inspired, is full of legend, allegory, and mythical imagery.  It uses literary devices and styles, like fable, simile, allusion, epic poetry, erotic poetry, lyrical poetry.

She emphasized that those who recorded the words of the ancient prophets, and who put down the words of the gospels did not have microphones and recording devices lying around.  And neither dessert wanderers nor disciples were walking around with video cameras, documenting each event with timestamps, nor notarizing affidavits.  Scripture might give witness to some history, but it is not, generally speaking, a historical record.

She would nonetheless cringe if she heard any of the students say something like: “Oh, so this is ‘just’ a metaphor then?” or “That is ‘just’ a symbol?”

No – she would retort – it isn’t ‘just’ any of those things.  It may be metaphor – yes.  It may use simile – yes.  It may make use of symbolism – yes.  And they aren’t ‘just’ that.  There are deep truths to be found in these, not despite, but often through these narrative devices.

Symbols can tell a whole story in a single image – we often light one on Sunday mornings.  Metaphors and similes can make a complex concept more accessible.  Perhaps paradoxically, using some abstraction in language can make some ideas feel more concrete and palpable, by using relatable words and images, which make more intuitive sense.  A plant germinating, for instance, is the story of spring and rebirth – it isn’t “just” a symbol… it is an entire container for the story of life.

These words can be powerful.  They aren’t “just” words.

Thought they may, in fact, often be just words – that is to say, words for justice.

Indeed, a prevailing theme in the books named after prophets is justice.  And naming this prophetic imperative is the foundation behind many of the great religious traditions of which we are a part.

Of course, it is easy to point out the limitations of words.  One truth that is often spoken is that actions speak louder than words.  It is perhaps fitting that this particular bit of wisdom is expressed, appropriately enough, through words by which to express the need for impactful action.  Indeed, it is often through words that we can find the direction, the focus, the inspiration, to pursue the action.

There are times when we invoke some of these stories in our community.  We particularly recount these words around Easter, Christmas, and a few other times throughout the year, as they can offer us space for contemplation and insight – an invitation to consider the world with new perspectives, or to remember aspects of our faith that bring us together, such as the invitation to recognize an incarnation of divinity in humanity – to affirm and promote an inherent worth and dignity in every person; or to find the seed of resurrection and rebirth after times of despair or sorrow.

These words matter.

There are times when we wouldn’t be faulted for using, only words as our action.  At other times, actions without the accompanying words, might feel incomplete.  On days like today, in which many of you recognize the work of nurturing parenthood that is often labeled motherhood – or in which your own identity as mothers might be celebrated – you may partake in both words and actions that recognize these family ties.  Some of you may have a special brunch, or outing, or other family activity.  And these actions might be incomplete without the appropriate words.  These are often words of gratitude, words of affirmation, words of fondness – thank you, well done, I love you.

(Sometimes there is a need for more complicated words, as these relationships can have complex layers.)

And sometimes the accompanying actions aren’t possible… yet, or anymore.  And the words can still be there – a card, a call, a candle, a prayer.

These aren’t “just” words.  They are just words.

And they are also not the only words and actions.  They are but a glimpse of a larger relationship over a year and a lifetime.  There have been and there may be other times to share these words and to have done and maybe still do the actions that these words invite.

A bit over a month ago, at the end of March, several delegations from the Indigenous peoples that are represented in Canada, visited the Vatican City.  These delegations included First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples, including survivors, and descendants of survivors, from the Indian residential school system – the outcomes of which are coming into much wider awareness over the past year.  They spent some time visiting with Pope Francis and sharing their experiences and the experiences of their families and people.  Through their words, they bore witness to a shared truth of pain, of resilience, of anger, of healing, and of appeal to justice.

Mothers spoke about losing their children – sometimes for months, sometimes for years, and sometimes… forever.  Grown children spoke about missing their mothers, and of missing out on much-needed nurturing love.  These are powerful words that have been offered to us.  These words were also given to the Pope, as the embodied representative of one of the major bodies that was complicit in that injustice.

On April 1st, Pope Francis offered some humble words – an apology.  He recognized the hurt carried out by the institution that he leads, and the hurt felt by the peoples that he heard from.  He named the injustice.  He assumed responsibility.  He asked for forgiveness.  He pledged to do better.

These weren’t “just” words, they were just words.  Words heading in the direction of justice.  And they were largely well received by the Indigenous delegations, among whom many had been waiting for just these words for decades.

To be sure, among many Indigenous peoples, there remains an expectation for more – for more words in that direction, for more words toward other concrete steps in a conciliatory practice, and… for other actions in the interest of justice.  There is an appeal for steps beyond words.

And there is a recognition that these words were important, perhaps necessary, for the other steps to take place.  Without those words spoken in April, it might have been difficult for other action to come about.  These words weren’t “just” a symbol – they were symbolic.  They marked a new stage in a long and complicated process.

My friends, in our community, we value the power of language – of words – alongside the power of action.

Our stories, my friends, are never “just” stories – they are witness.  Our conversations are not “just” conversations, they are connection.  Our presence with each other (however it may look) is not “just” showing up, it is support and celebration.

My friends, may we have good words with each other, that they may lead to good works.

So may it be,
And so may we say,

Copyright © 2022 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Closing Hymn #187 It Sounds Along the Ages
~)-| Words: William Channing Gannett, 1840-1923
Music: Melody of the Bohemian Brethren, Hemlandssånger, Rock Island, Illinois, 1892, arr.

Unitarian Universalist Church of Utica (27 February, 2021)

Flower Power (Flour Power) – Karen Miller

May 8th, 2022 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

May 2022 Newsletter

April 30th, 2022 . by William Baylis

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