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.


Current Sunday Services for 2020

March 18th, 2020 . by William Baylis

In-person Services suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic

The Executive Committee of the Board together with the Minister of the church are monitoring advisories on the current coronal virus outbreak. At their meeting after the service on March 15, they elected not to offer in-person worship services for the next few Sundays. They will be replaced by new online materials and, as possible, virtual services using Zoom. For future worship services, the situation will be re-evaluated with the latest medical and societal information then available.

Please check back on this site for updates, and visit canada.ca/coronavirus for more information on the virus.
The UU Church of Olinda held only one live service in July, on July 26, and one in August, on August 9.
Please check this site for details. You can also join live UU services across Canada. The Canadian Unitarian Council is hosting a series of live online Sunday Services, and these will be led by a different Canadian congregation every Sunday.

Below are the links to the main information page, as well as a link to pre-register (required). The Zoom rooms can hold up to 1,000 people – if you’re unable to log on, you can also view the service on the CUC YouTube channel.

Sunday Summer Services Series – Schedule
Pre-register: here.
Simple Registration (Name, E-mail address, Confirmation that you’re not a robot)

CUC YouTube Channel

Date Speaker Title Musician(s)
Aug. 23 Marianne Nichols, U Fellowship, Sarnia/Port Huron KindnessAs Glen Campbell once sang,  kindness can overcome the blindness and many injustices that people face.Kindness has an enduring quality that can seem to increase in value over time. Even the smallest act of kindness can have immeasurably positive effects, some of which may last a lifetime. Simply noticing the importance of kindness in our lives can remind us to extend kindness to others, especially during times of challenge. Virtual Service with Zoom
Sept. 13 Rev. Rod Solano Quesnel Worthy WatersWater Ceremony Virtual Service with Zoom
Sept. 20 Rev. Rod Solano Quesnel Chunks of TimeOur sense of awareness tends to find order by dividing time into manageable bits. Changes in seasons are one way that we find ourselves grounded in time, and as the days darken, we can find new meanings for the foreseeable future. Virtual Service with Zoom
Sept. 27 Rev. Rod Solano Quesnel FWIW (For What It’s Worth)Variations of Universalism have been around for longer than we might think. The details may change, but the foundations of love without exceptions offer a worldview worth cultivating. Virtual Service with Zoom
Oct. 4 Rev. Justin Schroeder from Minnesota. NB time change: 11 am-noon 250 Years of Universalist Heritage and its Meaning for Our TimeContinuing our exploration of Universalism, we are invited to join a North America-wide service, celebrating our tradition’s roots on the continent. Virtual Service with Zoom
Oct. 11 Rev. Rod Solano Quesnel TIA (Thanks in Advance). The general practice is to give thanks after the fact – but what if we can apply the gift of gratitude preemptively? Virtual Service with Zoom
Oct. 18 Rev. Rod Solano Quesnel Heavy Metal– We’ve all heard of the golden rule, but what about the silver rule and the platinum rule? How do these different “metal” rules invite us to seek answers to the question: “what is the right thing to do?” Virtual Service with Zoom
Oct. 25 Rev. Rod Solano Quesnel IOW (In Other Words)When one-off situations seem to pop up everywhere, it may be a sign that something larger is in the works.  What do we call this? Virtual Service with Zoom
Nov. 1 Rev. Rod Solano Quesnel R.I.P. Rest in PowerAs we honour those who have gone before us around the Days of the Dead, we recall the power that they can have even after death. Virtual Service with Zoom

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

IOW (In Other Words)

October 25th, 2020 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Opening Hymn #126 Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing
Words: v. 1 Robert Robinson, 1735-1790, adapt.,
~)-| vs. 2-3, Eugene B. Navias, 1928-
Music: John Wyeth, Repository of Sacred Music, Part II, 1813

Interpreted by Kaleb Brasee

1 Come, thou fount of ev’ry blessing, tune our ears to sing thy grace.
Streams of mercy never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise.
While the hope of life’s perfection fills our hearts with joy and love,
teach us ever to be faithful, may we still thy goodness prove.

2 Come, thou fount of ev’ry vision, lift our eyes to what may come.
See the lion and the young lamb dwell together in thy home.
Hear the cries of war fall silent, feel our love glow like the sun.
When we all serve one another, then our heaven is begun.

3 Come, thou fount of inspiration, turn our lives to higher ways.
Lift our gloom and desperation, show the promise of this day.
Help us bind ourselves in union, help our hands tell of our love.
With thine aid, O fount of justice, earth be fair as heav’n above.

For All Ages – Color film was built for white people – Vox

Meditation Music – Love Theme from “Cinema Paradiso” – interpreted by Karen Miller and Bill Baylis

Sermon – IOW (In Other Words) – Rev. Rod


Read: [Print-ready PDF for download]

The role of ministry is often described as work of service.  And in a community of faith, that can mean many things, including leading Sunday services.  This is a ministry that is often also shared with lay leaders.

Now, just as many of you might do at different times of your lives, I have also held a job in what is indeed formally called “the service industry”, literally serving food or drink.  And sometimes, members of our community fulfill that role at our church gatherings, when some of us serve food for the community, along with taking care of the other logistical aspects that this entails, like setting up the space, cleaning up, taking down.  In other words, we serve each other at our church, in many kinds of ways, some sound more literal than others, but they are all kinds of service.

Now, like some among you, I have done this semi-professionally.  For a couple of years, I held a part-time job with an event staffing agency.  In other words, we were “freelance butlers” of sorts… and that’s what we called each other in our agency’s culture – the “butlers”.  And our jobs included table and bar service for different kinds of events, from small house parties, to large gala dinners.  And yes, in addition to my license to solemnize marriages, I also have a Smart Serve certificate… in other words, a “bartending license”.

One of the gigs that I once worked at, was a private fundraising dinner – it was a schmancy affair at a swanky home, in a high-end Toronto neighbourhood.  The menu had been meticulously chosen, the desserts looked like works of art, and the décor was fancifully laid out, with purpose-made mood lighting, flower arrangements, a colour-theme, and trendy candle-holders that were whimsically suspended inside cute bird-cages around the main guest table.

The meal service was pretty standard – hors-d’oeuvres, cocktails, sit-down, salad, main course, schmancy dessert.  We’d done this plenty of times.

My fellow butlers lined up to serve the salad.  A small platoon of us filed out and each of us served the diners, two plates at a time.

Just as I was rounding the halfway point around the table, I suddenly found myself seeing stars and then felt a warm drip around my ear and side of the face.

It turns out that I had crashed into a birdcage.

The kind of birdcage that held an hour’s worth of melted paraffin wax, which was now dripping down my side unto my agency-approved black vest, black tie, black shirt, and black pants uniform.

Also, it was on my hair.

In a moment of crisis-management brilliance, I arranged for a co-working butler to serve the rest of my allotted salad, while I sheepishly walked over to my supervisor, with wax slowly hardening on my clothes, to explain the situation, and fill out the OSHA-mandated incident report.

My supervisor was… graceful enough.  She didn’t make a big deal out of it, but did helpfully suggest that I relieve my colleague on dish duty, so that they may take my place on table duty, as my uniform was no longer up to industry standard.

While no blame was named, I did feel rather foolish at my misstep, and many questions came to mind as I started piling dirty dishes into plastic bins.  How did I not see the birdcage?  Could I have avoided the birdcage?  Why am I the only one to have crashed into the birdcage?

My relationship with the birdcage featured deeply into my sense of ineptness at my job of putting down plates of salad.  I felt foolish, and had existential questions about my ability to perform in the service industry.

At some point into the main course, one of my senior colleagues joined me on dish duty.  Turns out that the seemingly static birdcage had a way of sneaking up on people.

With a slightly banged-up head, and an even more banged-up ego, my colleague’s company offered me an odd comfort.  I may have been a fool, but I wasn’t the only one.

A few minutes into dessert, my supervisor walked into the kitchen – “The photographer just got waxed!” she declared.

A very professional-looking fellow with silver hair and an expensive camera walked in.  Paraffin featured heavily on his corduroy jacket.  He was talking about how we would word the invoice for dry-cleaning.

By that point, I no longer felt foolish.  It was clear to me that it wasn’t a matter of me absently bumping into a birdcage, or my colleague being equally clumsy.

In other words, the problem was systemic.

Something about the layout in the venue’s décor lent itself to workers being wacked on the head and waxed over their bodies and clothes.

Now, I believe that the interior decorator for this particular event never had it in their program plan to harm workers, or spill hot paraffin over them.  I am convinced that that particular outcome was never part of their intent.

And yet, their layout had a measurable impact on the people responsible for making the event happen.  Some of them were newbies, like me, but it also included more seasoned service staff, as well, as full-out professionals, with years of experience.

It wasn’t a matter of an individual’s personal ability or shortcomings – it was the structure in place that was inherently problematic, and prone to cause harm to an entire category of people involved in the event – in this case the service workers.

My friends, in our communities, our living covenant calls on us to grow into awareness toward nurturing right relations with each other.  The examples of the silver, gold, and platinum rules, offer us perspective on the kinds of questions we can ask of ourselves, and others, when deciding how we can treat those around us… examining how we love ourselves, how we can love our neighbours responsibly, and moreover, how can we allow the wider community – and the systems in it – to foster loving spaces.  Spaces where we can be mindful of our intentions – and their impacts.  And spaces where we hold each other accountable, not just as individuals, but as a community.

My friends, as we continue to build beloved community, we may grow into awareness of how our separate selves collectively make the space for warmth and light.

In Solidarity,
So may it be,
In other words,

Copyright © 2020 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Hymn #125 From the Crush of Wealth and Power

~)-| Words: Kendyl L. R. Gibbons, 1955- , © 1992 Unitarian Universalist Association
Music: Peter Cutts, 1937- , © 1969 Hope Publishing Co.

Interpreted by John Thomas, baritone soloist, posted by Dan Inglis

Heavy Metal

October 18th, 2020 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Opening Hymn #70 Heap High the Farmer’s Wintry Hoard
Words: John Greenleaf Whittier 1807-1892
Music: American folk melody, arr. by Annabel Morris Buchanan, 1899-1983, © 1938, renewed 1966 J. Fischer & Bros. Co.,
harm. By Charles H. Webb, 1933- , © 1989 J. Fischer & Bros. Co.

Tune “Land of Rest” Interpreted by Bobby Horton, from the soundtrack to “National Parks”

1 Heap high the farmer’s wintry hoard!
Heap high the golden corn!
No richer gift has autumn poured
from out the lavish horn!

2 Through vales of grass and meads of flowers
our plows their furrows made,
while on the hills the sun and showers
of changeful April played.

3 We dropped the seed over hill and plain
beneath the sun of May,
and frightened from our sprouting grain
the robber crows away.

4 All through the long, bright days of June
its leaves grew green and fair,
and waved in hot mid-summer’s noon
its soft and yellow hair.

5 And now, with autumn’s moonlit eyes,
its harvest time has come,
we pluck away the frosted leaves
and bear the treasure home.

For All Ages – The Golden Rule Poster – by Scarboro Missions

The Golden Rule is one example of an “ethic of reciprocity” – this is a way of dealing with each other by which we may benefit each other together.

Many religious traditions have a version of this, and one famous collection of these is a poster created by the ministry Scarboro Missions.

Here is a site that shows a few designs of the poster in a few different languages:


And here is the site of the original creator’s organization


Sermon – Heavy Metal – Rev. Rod


Read: [Print-ready PDF document available for download]

In our Unitarian Universalist tradition, we often outline a process for seeking norms on how we’d like to get along with each other, and we refer to this process as being in Covenant – this is something we’ll continue to explore in the coming weeks and months.

Now, let’s start with one norm that many of you will be familiar with –  the Golden Rule “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.  The Golden Rule appears in the gospels of Matthew (7:12) and Luke (6:31).  It recalls wisdom from the Hebrew scriptures – in Leviticus, there is a commandment: “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18).  Other traditions have ethical pronouncements that echo the sentiment of reciprocity offered by the Golden Rule.

I’d like to invoke another kind of scriptural source here, which is the last book by astronomer Carl Sagan, called Billions & Billions.  I like it because he devotes an entire chapter to discussing several ethical rules to live by.  The chapter is called “The Rules of the Game”.

In pointing out different ethical guidelines that have similar formulations, Carl Sagan lists them with according “metal” names.  The more noble-sounding ones, are given names of what are called “noble” metals, like gold and silver, which do not easily tarnish, while the approaches that sound less noble, tend to recall the names of lesser value metals.

Among these “metal” rules, is the similar-sounding Silver Rule – a negative formulation of its Golden counterpart – “Do not do unto others as you would not have them do unto you”.  At first hearing, it sounds deceptively identical, except the Golden Rule promotes active positive action – to benefit others as you would like the same – while the Silver version seems more focused on preventing reciprocal harm.  And depending on the situation, the outcomes might be different.

Similarly, the Brass or Brazen Rule is more reactive – Do unto others as they do unto you.  It functions as a response to others’ actions.  And it’s the basis of what is more commonly known as Tit-for-Tat.  This is a fairly standard rule, perhaps one of the most widely followed, even without us realizing it.  And perhaps this is because it does not call for the level of self-reflection as the Silver and Golden Rules do, as they ask us first how we love ourselves, so that this may be a guide towards how we treat others.

This is perhaps the ennobling attribute of the “nobler” metal rules – Silver and Gold – as they call for self-reflection and invite you to value self-love, which is even more valuable if this self-reflection becomes a guide on how you love your neighbour.

Back to the Brazen Rule, and its derivative, Tit-for-Tat – these risk unhealthy cycles… it works all fine and good as long as others are playing along by treating you the way you’d like, and you treating them in kind.  But as soon as someone treats their neighbour poorly, a never-ending cycle of retaliation is liable to begin in a kind of perpetual vendetta.

The reciprocal nature of these rules is broken by the more unscrupulous Iron Rule – Do unto others as you like, before they do it unto you – and its moral compass seems to be based strictly on immediate self-interest and the capacity to get away with it.

There is also an odd hybrid between the Golden and Iron Rules – Sagan phrases it as Suck up to those above you, and abuse those below – and he calls this one the Tin Rule, describing it essentially as the Golden Rule for superiors and the Iron Rule for inferiors.  Examples of this ethic are easy to find these days.

Lately, the Golden and Silver Rules come to mind around the question of why we wear masks.  When health authorities began recommending them, they made it clear that their purpose was less about protecting oneself directly, and more about protecting others from potential harm… from us.

If you value being protected from potential harm coming from others, and you applied either the Golden or Silver Rule, then the ethical outcome is quite clear – you wear a mask.

But even this example exposes some of the issues that come with these noble metal rules.  What happens when you apply the rule, but don’t value that personal protection?  Or, more generally, if you haven’t explored in some depth what it means to love yourself?

If you apply the Golden Rule without a sense of what it means to love yourself, the Golden Rule won’t do your neighbour much good, if they’re treated in a way that isn’t respectful of the self.

Or maybe you do love yourself and are totally game to treat others in the same way you honour yourself… but maybe it turns out that the way you honour yourself is not the way others would like to be honoured!  What happens if someone meant to treat you well according to their standard, but the effect on you was the opposite, since the way they’d like to be treated might not line up with how you’d like to be treated?

In fact, one the criticisms of the Golden Rule, is that it does not seem to take into account differences in personal and cultural expectations on what it means to treat your neighbour well.  So, what does it mean when these well-intentioned ethical guidelines still fail to treat others with the respect they need, even if followed to the letter?

There is one “metal” rule that Carl Sagan doesn’t mention, but which has gained popularity.  It is called the Platinum Rule – Do unto others as they would like to have done unto them.  This one could be seen as more noble than the Silver and Golden versions, in that it shifts the focus from our wants or needs, to those of the recipient.  In this way, it removes the risks of the Silver and Golden Rules, where the frame of reference is yourself, since you might happen to have different priorities than your neighbour.

One of my favourite aspects of the Platinum Rule is that it adds that extra dimension to the ethical dynamic.  Not only is it an imperative to do a positive action toward your neighbour – the kind of action they would like, in fact – but it raises the question: What does your neighbour want, or need?

The Platinum Rule, therefore adds a layer of relationship-building.  It invites you to explore the needs of your neighbour before acting towards them and potentially offering something that might well be detrimental – however well-intentioned you may have been – based on your own perception of your needs.

Nonetheless, the Platinum Rule runs a different risk than the other noble “metal” rules… it might minimize the layer of self-reflection that seeks to recognize self-love, by prioritizing your neighbour.  Adopting an ethical basis based purely on the Platinum Rule might not only risk losing sight of the importance of self-care – it could, by extension, open one up to extreme vulnerability of self-neglect and abuse by others.  And it wouldn’t necessarily benefit society as a whole – just because a neighbour wishes to be treated a certain way does not mean that it would be beneficial to your other neighbours, let alone yourself.

So where does this leave us?

The way I see it, the value of these rules lies less on a drive to live purely by any one of these rules, and rather, to wrestle with the questions they raise about how we value ourselves, how we value our neighbours, and how we value our community.

My friends, if we stay on our toes, and consider the questions and the considerations that these rules bring up, then we may well forge them into a sort of “Ethical Alloy”, that combines their mutual strengths into a more solid set of ethical guides.  Asking what it means to love ourselves, considering how others might love themselves, exploring the needs of our neighbour, and remembering, the wider community of neighbours, and how actions might affect them – these are helpful skills to nurture when building a community of right relations.

My friends, when we build Covenants in our communities, we are not looking to simply optimize our self-interest, nor are we looking solely to selflessly serve others at the expense of our own needs and fulfillment – we are rather seeking to build a community of exploration, of healing, of forgiveness and acceptance.  We seek to build a community where we can get to know our neighbours – where we can get to appreciate and value our neighbours… and where they can get to know and appreciate us.  We seek to build a community where love is our guide – love for ourselves, love for others, and love for the interdependent web of which we are all part.

So may it be,
In Solidarity,

Copyright © 2020 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Closing Hymn #140 Hail the Glorious Golden City
W: Felix dler, 1851-1933
M: Rowland Hugh Prichard, 1811-1887

Tune “Hyfrydol” interpreted on mountain dulcimer by Gwen Caeli

1 Hail the glorious golden city, pictured by the seers of old:
everlasting light shines o’er it, wondrous things of it are told.
Wise and righteous men and women dwell within its gleaming wall;
wrong is banished from its borders, justice reigns supreme o’er all.

2 We are builders of that city. All our joys and all our groans
help to rear its shining ramparts; all our lives are building-stones.
Whether humble or exalted, all are called to task divine;
all must aid alike to carry forward one sublime design.

3 And the work that we have builded, oft with bleeding hands and tears,
oft in error, oft in anguish, will not perish with our years:
it will live and shine transfigured in the final reign of right:
it will pass into the splendors of the city of the light.

TIA (Thanks in Advance)

October 11th, 2020 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Opening Hymn #67 We Sing Now Together
~)-| Words: Edwin T. Buehrer, 1894-1969, alt © UUA
Music: Adrian Valerius’s Netherlandtsch Gedenckclanck, 1626,
arr. by Edward Kremser, 1838-1914

Tune Kremser interpreted by organpipe8 (Lance)

Time for All Ages – Thanks a Lot – by Raffi

Presented by the Raffi Foundation for Child Honoring, with collaboration from Teacher Erin Clarke and the children of classroom 9

Meditation on Joys & Sorrows

This week we hold in mind the people of the Caribbean, Mexico, the United States, and all across North America, who have been affected by Hurricane Delta. Named after the fourth letter of the Greek alphabet, Delta represents an abnormal number of named storms in the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season.

We also acknowledge that in the United States, Indigenous Peoples’ Day, on October 12, is getting wider recognition, in an effort to bring awareness of the realities of colonialism. Canada also has a National Indigenous Peoples’ Day on June 21, and other countries recognize Indigenous Peoples at other times of the year, which allow us to remember the history, the present, and the presence of Indigenous Peoples throughout the world, and throughout the year.

Holding the realities of the world, we also recognize the value in giving witness to the joys and the sorrows that are present in our personal lives.  To recognize, commemorate, and celebrate special moments, or landmarks in our lives.

Meditation Hymn #68 Come, Ye Thankful People – Karen Miller
Words: Henry Alford. 1810-1871
Music: George Job Elvey, 1816-1893

Interpreted by Karen Miller

Hymn #277 When We Wend Homeward
Words: Psalm 126
Music: American folk melody, arr. by Annabel Morris Buchanan, 1889-1983, © 1938, renewed 1966 J. Fischer & Bros. Co., harmony by Charles H. Webb, 1933- , © 1989 J. Fischer & Bros. Co.

Interpreted by Bobby Horton, from the soundtrack to “National Parks”

1 When we wend homeward to our land,
like dreamers we shall be;
like leaping rivers in the spring
we’ll joyful be and free!

2 For though our sowing work is hard,
and tears do freely flow,
on harvest day we’ll shoulder sheaves,
our hearts will overflow!

Sermon – TIA (Thanks in Advance) – Rev. Rod


Read: [Downloadable print-ready PDF available]

As we’ve gotten more familiar with different technologies over the past few months, I’m also introducing some of the internet lingo that we sometimes come across while using online media.  A lot of this techie language tends to use abbreviations – shorthand ways to express common and significant phrases.  So, this year, I am peppering these condensed expressions in the titles of my sermons.  Last month, I talked about FWIW, meaning For What it’s Worth.  Today, I want to talk about the expression TIA.

Now, the alphabet soup of medicine, and the alphabet soup of correspondence and internet-speak, can have overlapping abbreviations that mean different things.  Some of you, or someone you know, may have already had experience with something called a TIA – a Transcient Ischemic Attack, sometimes known as “mini-strokes”, which would not have been a pleasant experience.  Today, I’m talking about a different, and more affirming, kind of TIA – the note that means thanks in advance.

This is something you might tag on at the end of an e-mail or text message, to assure your correspondent that you are grateful for what they can offer – even if it hasn’t been done yet.

This, is a pre-emptive form of gratitude, that is banking on the faith that, even when considering the fog of the future, someone will deliver… or do their best to make good on their intentions for your sake.

Now, it might sometimes seem like the default way of practicing gratitude is… retrospective – giving thanks for something that has been done for us, or that we have received, or that we’ve benefitted from – in the past.

Sometimes, the gratitude feels a bit more immediate, by acknowledging something that’s there for us now.  A common theme on this Thanksgiving holiday is the harvest time, naming the good fortune many of us have, to enjoy the yields of the earth and the wonder of nature.  Sometimes we recognize the work and life of animals that may be involved in our nourishment.  And we also recognize the work and dedication of all the people involved in producing these gifts and getting them to us – some of you are involved in doing this very work.

We do these acts of thanksgiving with good reason, to build reciprocity in community, to remember that which is there for us… even when we might sometimes forget, and to recognize the interdependent web of which we are part.

And the neat thing is that this interdependent web goes beyond space, as it also transcends time.  Certainly, we look at the past, but sometimes, we can look at the sources of gratitude that we foresee in the future.

Over the past six months, there has been greater social consciousness about the value of the work performed by what we call essential workers – and this category is often quite expansive, reminding us that we rely on each other more than we might typically think.  Most often, foremost in our minds are medical and health professionals, care workers, labourers along the chain of supply, as well as school and childcare services… though this list will immediately seem terribly inadequate to truly reflect the interdependent web that allows for our society to function.

And as we think about the coming weeks and months, we think about the work that still needs to be done to move us beyond the current realities of the pandemic.  One place where expectations are high is in the case of a vaccine.  And even though we don’t have one yet, we can be grateful now for the work that is already being carried out toward that goal.  We can give thanks in advance, because even though we don’t know when it will happen – and at times we might even be uncertain if it will happen – we still have faith that the people involved will deliver all they have to give toward that target.

And that’s what giving thanks in advance is about, my friends.  It’s an expression of faith in others, in their intentions toward us, and in their abilities.  It’s an expression of hope, that we may look forward to yet another opportunity to be grateful.  It’s an expression of love, for those who share this reciprocal, interrelated web with us.  It is as transcendent virtuous cycle that goes beyond space and time.

My friends, as we approach the “bookend” anniversaries of the Church of Olinda, recognizing 140 years since the founding of our church, in November, and 140 years since the construction of our church building, in September, we are doing all these kinds of acts of thanksgiving, my friends.

We are paying homage to the past, to the founders of the church, and the people who helped to build its community and its physical home.  We are giving regard, in gratitude, for the community we have now, eager to celebrate together what is there for us to share, and for the new and various ways that we can be church together, even while apart.  And we also express hope for the future of our church, seeing a vision of what it can be, and how we might do it.

My friends, we are giving thanks in advance for the work we do now, that we may enjoy the yields in days, weeks, months, and years to come; and that we may be gratified that others may also benefit from this, sometimes in unexpected ways.

And for this we may be grateful, in anticipation.

So may it be,
In Gratitude and Solidarity,

Copyright © 2020 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Closing Hymn #1010 We Give Thanks
~)-| Words & Music: Wendy Luella Perkins, 1966- © 2004 Wendy Luella Perkins
arr. Susan Peck, 1960-

Interpreted by the Orange Coast Unitarian Universalist Choir

250 Years of Universalist Heritage and its Meaning for Our Time (4 October, 2020)

October 11th, 2020 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

First Universalist Church of Minneapolis

Members of the UU Church of Olinda were guests at this live online service.

Watch full service:

FWIW – For What it’s Worth

September 27th, 2020 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Opening Hymn #298 Wake, Now, My Senses
~)-| Words: Thomas J. S. Mikelson, 1936- , © Thomas J. S. Mikelson
Music: Traditional Irish melody, harmony by Carlton R. Young, 1926- , renewal © 1992 Abingdon Press

Interpreted by the First Unitarian Church of Baltimore

Time for All Ages – UU Principles Song – by Rev. Tony Larson,

Performed by Steve Askins, from the Unitarian Universalist Church of Elgin, Illinois

Meditation on Joys & Sorrows

As we consider our stories of transition, of landmarks, of celebration and commemoration, we are also invited to witness to some of the events from around the world, remembering that what touches one affects us all.

Today, we keep in mind the people of Greece, where 4 people have been killed and several cities have been flooded by Cyclone Ianus.

We also recognize that Covid-19 will likely have claimed 1 million lives by the beginning of this week, with an infection toll of over 32 million.  We also acknowledge that in much of Ontario and elsewhere in Canada, a second wave seems to be shaping up.  This latest spike has leveled out over the past few days, and we may continue to contribute to this flattening with our efforts.  We are grateful that, although Windsor-Essex was a hot spot some months ago, it has lately had one of the lowest infection rates in Ontario.

Holding the realities of the world, we also recognize the value in giving witness to the joys and the sorrows that are present in our personal lives.  To recognize, commemorate, and celebrate special moments, or landmarks in our lives.

Hymn #1058 Be Ours a Religion
~)-| Words: Theodore Parker, 1810-1860
~)-| Music Thomas Benjamin, 1940- , © 1998 Yelton Rhodes Music (ASCAP). Used by permission

Interpreted by Kitsap Unitarian Universalist Fellowship

Sermon – FWIW (For What it’s Worth) – Rev. Rod


Read: [Print-ready PDF document for download]

As this year rolls along, we are coming upon a year-long season of anniversary celebration, commemoration, and contemplation about the past – and the future – of our Unitarian Universalist Church of Olinda, for all that it is worth, beginning with the 140th anniversary of the founding of our church, this coming November 8.

And as we get ready to look at our church’s history, it is worth looking at our larger tradition’s history – specifically, the Universalist tradition on which we were founded.

Now, I’m not going to go into an extensive historical account of Universalism today.  It is a fascinating story, and one which can get… very specific, and perhaps technical, with very close readings of biblical scripture, as well as seeking to apply a critical understanding of historical and contemporary use of language.  Over the coming year, we might delve more deeply into parts of that history and what it continues to mean for us.  For today, I’m inviting you to share in some of the basics, as we gear up for this year’s celebrations.

For some of you, this might be a kind of review, particularly those of you who grew up in this church, and especially if you were around when it was a Universalist church, before merging and becoming Unitarian Universalist.

But you might be up for a refresher, especially if you’re newer to our tradition, or new to the Universalist heritage of this church, which is a bit different than most UU congregations in Canada that generally spawn from the Unitarian roots.

Now, one of the quirks of both the Universalist and the Unitarian traditions is that their names come from very specific doctrinal schools in Christian theology, which has often been remarked as paradoxical, since both Unitarianism and Universalism – as well as the newer merged Unitarian Universalist denomination – are characterized by a lack of attachment to doctrine.  And in both traditions, the Christian elements have often come to represent a smaller proportion of the theological thought expressed in our communities.

For our shared reference, the Unitarian doctrine was a rejection of the trinitarian conception of divinity.  And Universalism rejected the doctrine of eternal punishment in an afterlife – that is to say, it proclaimed universal salvation – a statement that every single person is worthy of the same love.

But, if you’ve been attending our services for a while, you might have noticed that we don’t really talk very much about these specific doctrines and whether or not we reject them.  And we tend not to make many claims about afterlife, recognizing that, among you, there are different expectations of what happens after death.  And accepting the coexistence of these diverse theologies has become a hallmark of both of our parent traditions.

So, it might seem easy to dismiss the doctrinal roots of our namesakes – Unitarianism and Universalism – as vestigial remnants from a different time, when our congregations were clearly under the Christian protestant umbrella – something that is a much fuzzier question nowadays.

And yet, the spirit of these roots continues to drive theological thought and development among our communities, not least being the fact that Universalist and Unitarian attitudes were labelled as heresies rebelling against some of the established norms in the history of Christian churches.

And while we may no longer spend a lot of time debating the details of how the conception of divinity might be structured – and in our case, the… mechanics of an afterlife – these roots, for all they are worth, continue to inspire how we look at the world and how we develop spiritually.  From an openness to ongoing revelation that is not sealed, to a steadfast commitment toward radical inclusion.

So, let’s pause for a moment today, before we contemplate where we are, and where we want to go, and consider where we come from.

The universalist approach may seem new and radical, and in a larger historical sense, it is.  But looking further to the early Christian church, we also see evidence that types of universalism, rejecting eternal damnation and punishment in afterlife, were considered by the early church – and to some extent – accepted.

These are the kinds of “small u” universalisms, referring to theological concepts, rather than our “big U” Universalism, that speaks specifically about the name of our denomination.  “Small u” universalism is also sometimes called “classical” universalism, to distinguish from the Universalism label that has become the name of our church’s founding tradition.

We can see one of the earliest documented versions of this “small u” universalism, in the works of Christian theologian Origen of Alexandria, by the third century.  And several of his near contemporaries agreed.

Now, there is debate as to what extent Origen was a card-carrying universalist… his work is sometimes ambiguous and might even be seen as contradictory, but it is clear that his writings set out a universalist understanding as a serious proposal, with robust theological reasoning and drawing directly from scriptural texts.

As with many things, there have been several manifestations of the universalist spirit throughout history.  They range from merely posing the possibility of universal salvation – sometimes called “potential universalism”, to an absolute conviction that all people are guaranteed an afterlife in paradise, immediately upon death – this is sometimes called “unqualified universalism” in academic circles, but it is also sometimes known by the more metal-sounding name of “death and glory” – the kind of phrase that you might see on silk-screened black t-shirts at a heavy metal concert.

There is an in-between interpretation, in which everyone is guaranteed a punishment-free afterlife… eventually.  In this scenario, people might spend some time in a purgatory-style period when the soul is to be purified and restored unto blessedness.  And the time that this might take would depend on the type of life one led, and how one related to the redeeming figure of Christ.  This is academically called “qualified universalism”, and more popularly as “restorationism”.

This latter version of universalism is perhaps the one that Origen proposed, and the one that you might see among Christians that also lean toward a universalist view.  Because it is also worth noting that there are currently Christian-identifying communities that espouse this “small u” universalism.  This current exists alongside our denomination and is often called Christian Universalism, and this link, explains it in more detail.

And, while this classical universalism is no longer a… complete description of how our theologies emerge in our particular church’s community, it is worth taking a look at what it has meant.  It is part of our heritage, which continues to inform our faith, and continues to inform how we live our lives.

My friends, whatever your views on what happens after this life, the key value that every person’s life is worthy of acceptance, embracing their whole selves, including recognizing their inevitable faults, continues to be a founding principle of our communities.

My friends, the first Unitarian Universalist principle is a covenant to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person.  The Universalist spirit stands at the foundation of our community of faith, and the foundation of our life of faith.

My friends, for what it’s worth, this is a heritage to celebrate.

My friends, for what it’s worth, this is a life to honour.

So may it be,
In Solidarity,

Copyright © 2020 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Closing Hymn #148 Let Freedom Span Both East and West
Words: Anonymous
~)-| Music: Betsy Jo Angebranndt, 1931- , © 1992 Unitarian Universalist Association

Interpreted at St. John’s Unitarian Universalist Church

Chunks of Time

September 20th, 2020 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Hymn #52 In Sweet Fields of Autumn
Words: Elizabeth Madison, b. 1883, used by perm. of Hodgin Press
Music: William James Kirkpatrick, 1838-1921, harmony by Ralph Vaughn Williams, 1872-1958, © 1931 Oxford University Press

Interpreted by Julia Stubbs

Time for All Ages – Your Theme – CGP Grey

Meditation on Joys & Sorrows

This morning, we keep in mind the people of the United States, as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has died. With her death, and a new vacancy on the Supreme Court, there are many questions about the future of the court and justice in the US, and all the people who are affected by its decisions

We also keep in mind the transitional time that is September, with many people going back to school, parents adjusting their responsibilities, and potential shifts in working opportunities.

Holding the realities of the world, we also recognize the value in giving witness to the joys and the sorrows that are present in our personal lives.  To recognize, commemorate, and celebrate special moments, or landmarks in our lives.

We also remember all Joys and Sorrows left unsaid, recognizing that in this larger community, none of us is alone.

Sermon – Chunks of Time – Rev. Rod


Read: [Print-ready PDF version available for download]

You’ve seen hints of copper on the trees, the air feels colder this weekend, and – come Tuesday, the day will be more dark than light.  The fall season is upon us.

We’ve also had another… longer season to contend with… Pandemic Season.  It has both been longer, and likely will be longer, than many of us had either expected or hoped.

This week, it will be six months since we last gathered in the sanctuary in our church building.  And in this extended season, we have adapted the larger theme of church – from being in church, to being church, wherever we might be.

This adaptability of themes is what YouTube creator CGP Grey outlines in his video called Your Theme as one approach to making sense of chunks of time, like seasons and years.  As he mentions, this approach seeks to take advantage of broad themes, to identify and manage expectations over longer periods of time, especially when facing the fog of the future.

That doesn’t mean that more specific and structured systems don’t have a place – in fact, he has an entire separate video that describes the need for more detailed action plans in other circumstances.  But, as he remarks, not every problem needs a sharp tool.

And I think he’s on to something.  Especially since a broad theme, with flexible goals that can adapt to the specific situation, are the kind of life guidance that can help in making the more specific decisions of our day-to-day lives.

Speaking of themes, you may be aware that some other Unitarian Universalist congregations do monthly themes as part of their liturgical year.  We don’t do that here – at least not in that way – and there are many reasons for that, including some practical considerations, as well as elements of our church’s culture, and personal styles.  And I usually appreciate the flexibility that this affords me – and that it affords to our lay and guest speakers.  But, some of the keener observers among you might have noticed that many of the topics I touch upon tend to cluster in groups of three or four, which allows us to explore certain themes beyond a single Sunday morning.  And of course, our liturgical year has chunks of time with different flavours, as we move our attention to different priorities.

Be it weekly, monthly, seasonally, or yearly, thinking about the themes for different chunks of time, might help us get a better and clearer sense of the direction our lives are taking, or the direction that we would like them to take.  Because, to paraphrase CGP Grey: “thinking about our thinking, changes our thinking”.

Over this coming program year, we have a major theme that has been brought upon us, by mere virtue of the calendar – it happens to be the year 2020, and that is 140 years from when our church was founded.  We will be paying special attention to that anniversary on November 8, which will be close to the date when the count for those 140 years began.  And much like our church ancestors did 140 years ago, we will be gathering in building our spiritual community, even without access to a dedicated building for it.

But that’s just the beginning, because in September of 2021, it will be 140 years since the cornerstone for our church building was laid, so just less than one year from today, we will be recognizing that milestone of the cornerstone.  And who knows – we might even be able to celebrate the anniversary of our building, in the building.  I can’t make any promises… there’s always the fog of the future, but it is within the realm of possibility.

In any case, these two anniversary Sundays – November 8, 2020, for the founding of our church, and September 19, 2021, for the construction of our church building – will bookend nearly a year-long season when we can honour our history and our heritage, allowing us to explore where we have been, where we are, and where we want to be.  The leadership in our congregation has already taken steps in visioning what the future of our church may look like, as we navigate the current fog of Pandemic Season, and into the further fog of the future.

And in the coming year, we will all have the opportunity to be part of that conversation and think about what this all means – because “thinking about our thinking, changes our thinking.”  Adaptation will be part of it – the specific goals and actions will shift, and wherever we happen to be on September 19, 2021, we will have had a whole extended Anniversary Season to contemplate, celebrate, and commemorate our history, at the same time as we get to delve deeper into our emerging vision.

Now over the past Pandemic Season, other themes have emerged.  For me, most of the spring season – right around the time of our last in-person worship service – was dedicated to incorporating the use of audio-visual technology to complement and enhance our worship experience.  It just so happens that I was already moving toward that theme before we closed down the church building’s doors.

If you attended that last in-person service on March 15, you will remember that we watched a YouTube video as a kind of “video reading”, very similar to what we do on our live services and our web services, and as we have done several times over the past months.  So, the theme of more audio-visual elements in worship was already there, and as circumstances shifted, the focus of that theme also changed, as we needed to look to more expansive uses of audio-visual tech, to accommodate the need for online and web services.

For other members of our church leadership, Pandemic Season also had a certain theme, partly due to circumstance.  In the spring, a few of our Board members, concentrated their efforts to regularizing parts of our incorporation process, and over the summer, a devoted group dedicated a great chunk of time to fleshing out many details of what will be our revised by-laws, to conform to the Federal not-for-profit standards.

My friends, this fall season, we will be participating in looking at those new by-laws, getting to know them and understand them better, and hopefully approve them, by December.  That will be one of our seasonal themes.

My friends, your own personal and family seasons, or cycles, might look different.  Perhaps you divide your time between personal, and social – or family – seasons.  Maybe you think of your year or your seasons in terms of chunks of time to spend indoors, and chunks of time to spend outside in nature.  There may be times for work, or times for school, and times for leisure.  When it makes sense to do so, you might have dedicated chunks of time for staying locally, and chunks of time for travel.  However it is that you divide your time, spending a bit of those chunks of time considering what it means to have – and to be part of – that time, can help in finding a deeper meaning in it.

My friends, as we head out into the next several chunks of time, facing the fog of the future, and navigating through it as we think about our thinking, may we take this time, to be in time.

So may it be,
In Solidarity,

Copyright © 2020 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Sept-Oct 2020 Newsletter

September 19th, 2020 . by William Baylis

Click here and enjoy!

Celebrate with us the 250th Anniversary of Universalism in America

September 18th, 2020 . by William Baylis

As part of the Sestercentennial of Universalism in America, the UU Church of Olinda will be joining the Sunday Service led by Rev. Justin Schroeder, co-minister of the First Universalist Church of Minneapolis, by Zoom. The service is entitled “250 Years of Universalist Heritage and its Meaning for Our Time” and runs on Sunday morning, October 4, 2020, from 11 am to noon ET.  This heritage is particularly relevant for our UU Church of Olinda since it was founded as a universalist church in 1880. The internet link to the service will be sent to members and friends of our church on October 3, 2020. If you do not regularly receive Zoom links to our services but want to participate on October 4, please send an email request for a link to our webmaster, whose contact information is given in the section <Our Church>.

For background and history of Universalism, access the 629-page pdf file digital Toolkit.

Worthy Waters

September 13th, 2020 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Opening Hymn #145 As Tranquil Streams
~)-| W: Marion Franklin Ham, 1867-1956
M: Musicalisches Hand-buch, Hamburg, 1690, adapt.
Winchester New

Interpreted by the Community Church Virtual Chamber Choir (Chapel Hill)

[Time for All Ages – Where does Water Come From? – SciShow Kids]

Meditation on Joys & Sorrows

  • This week, we keep in mind the people of Sudan, where massive floods have devastated tens of thousands of people’s homes and left many people dead. May they find recover well.
  • We are also mindful of the people in the western United States, where wildfires are putting several populations in danger. These fires can be linked to climate change, and we can hope that they may be brought under control soon.
  • And this week, many young people have been returning to school, which also means that more people are returning to work.  May these returns allow for safe environments for all of us.

Holding the realities of the world, we also recognize the value in giving witness to the joys and the sorrows that are present in our personal lives.  To recognize, commemorate, and celebrate special moments, or landmarks in our lives.

Hymn #113 Where Is Our Holy Church? Vv. 1-4
Words: Edwin Henry Wilson, 1898-1993 ~)-| © 1992 Unitarian Universalist Association
Music: Genevan psalter, 1551, adapt. By William Crotch, 1775-1847
St. Michael

Interpreted by Jess Huetteman

Sermon – Worthy Waters – Rev. Rod


Read [Print-ready PDF for download]:

Every once in a while, I get a chance to visit St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal.  It’s a large church building – the biggest in Canada, including powerful architecture, and an immersive setting and rich storytelling, that gives you a sense of Montreal’s Catholic heritage.

One of the places I sometimes visit when I’m there, is an unassuming room, with a steel water tank.  They give the water away, though if you don’t have a container of your own, you can get one of these bottles for a dollar, and fill them.

I’m always intrigued by what makes this water so special, to the extent that it is labeled holy water.

Well, it turns out the bottle contains a set of “ingredients” or “instructions” of sorts.  It turns out that holy water is not all that different than regular water – the secret ingredient is a blessing.

On the label, it explains that “To bless is to wish someone well”.  In the case of the kind of holy water that you find at places like St. Joseph’s Oratory, the water has been blessed by a priest, someone who has a job kind of like mine.

But Unitarian Universalists affirm what is sometimes called, the priesthood of all believers – these days we might phrase it something like the ministry of all the faithful.

And in fact, the water that I got there was blessed, not just by a priest, but also by the people who came along in my journeys to the Oratory.  In fact, when I started running out of this water, I had a chance to fill it more recently with water from a place where I had a holiday with my partner.  In any case, the water reminded me of the blessings I had by the people who are sometimes with me, and by the places where I can find this water.

So, I believe that, no matter where we are, we always have access to holy water of sorts – worthy water that has been blessed by people and places that mean us well.

Any of us who’ve lived in Essex county for any length of time, owe a great deal of our lives to this – tap water brought to us by grace of the County Waterworks.  It is a simple substance, yet a miracle of civil engineering.

What is inside our glasses has been around for a long time, and has been used before for uncountable uses.  It has been inside people and animals.  It has been sailed, and skated on. 

And before coming out of the tap, it has been graced by the powerful forces of science – physics, chemistry, and biology – gravity to separate it from heavier objects, substances to clear it, and living organisms to transform it from poisonous sludge, into life-giving drink.

It is blessed by the lives it has touched before, and by the lives that have cared for it.  It is worthy water.  It is holy water.

This water is easy to get – it is safe to wash with, cook with, and drink.

There are other waters that tell similar stories.

A few years ago, I visited my old home, which was in the old Olympic Village, from the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.  During my visit, I was able to stay in my old room, where I growing up.

While I was there, I often wondered about the athletes who lived there for a couple of weeks in October of 1968.  I wondered about who lived in my room, while getting ready for their event – Did they win a medal?  Did they come to represent their country regardless of the outcome?  How were they welcome when they got back home?

Some of you might remember that it was at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, when Tommie Smith or John Carlos made their remarkable Black Power salute, and they were not welcome by everyone in their home country.

I wondered about the athletes’ morning routines – how they felt as they used my shower, flushed my toilet, and washed their hands in my sink.  And I wondered – did they drink the water?

When I lived there in the 80s, we didn’t drink the water from those taps.  At least not directly.  My mom taught me to boil the water for several minutes, and then taught me to have patience as it cooled down.  We usually prepared batches in advance, but occasionally a lack of foresight meant, I had to go thirsty for longer than I expected.

When I go there now, we usually drink water from large 40L bottles, as has become the norm in Mexico.  The one from the taps is not necessarily harmful… but it carries enough risk that we’ve learned to take precautions.

And while that water might not be safe to drink, it is holy to me, I see it as blessed from its source, which has been graced by the presence of unknown athletes; unknown and known tenants over half a century; family and friends, who shared that tap with me, when it was the source for cleaning and preparing for the day and the night.  By their grace, that was worthy water.

On an early September day like today, it is often customary in Unitarian Universalist congregations to hold a ritual where we can bring water from places we might have visited over the summer.  Water that feels special because of a place that might have become special to us by our presence there.

That dynamic is less feasible these days…  Even if you did manage to visit some place and bring water from there, it is tricky for us to have these different waters poured in together.

And yet, all of you today, have special water with you.  Water that has been made holy by virtue of being next to you and accessible – ready to bring you life.

Most of you will have been able to bring drinkable water straight out of your taps, graced by the engineering marvels of our local waterworks around the county.

Now, over the summer a few households in rural Leamington were not able to do that, as a boil-water advisory was given in a limited space in town.

Even that water is special, and with a bit of extra care, it was possible to transform it into life-giving liquid – by boiling it – just as my family did at the old Olympic Village in Mexico City.

So, we see that any water can become special water – worthy water.  Whether it comes from far and exotic places, or from just a few steps away, where you live.  With some special care and intention, even the most brackish of waters can become a blessing to anyone and everyone.

Let us, together, partake in sharing this worthy water.  While we are apart, we may all drink from the same kind of water together.  Water that has been blessed by many others.  Worthy water.

To your health!
In Solidarity,

Copyright 2020 © Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Closing Hymn #1064 Blue Boat Home
~)-| Words: Peter Mayer, 1963- , © 2002 Peter Mayer
Music: Roland Hugh Prichard, 1811-1887, adapted by Peter Mayer, 1963 – ,
© 2002 Peter Mayer
~)-| keyboard arr. Jason Shelton, 1972 –

When Normal is Not an Option

August 9th, 2020 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Hymn #299 Make Channels for the Streams of Love

Words: From Richard Chenevix Trench, 1807-1886
Music: American folk melody, arr. by Annabel Morris Buchanan, 1889-1983, © 1938, renewed 1966 J. Fischer & Bros. Co., harmony by Charles H. Webb, 1933- , © 1989 J. Fischer & Bros. Co.

Interpreted by Bonnie Ettinger (piano) and Kevin Loop (soloist), from Abraham Lincoln Unitarian Universalist Association in Springfield, IL.

Time for All Ages – Born This Way by Lady Gaga – The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain

Meditation on Joys & Sorrows

August 6th and 9th mark the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki respectively. The Beirut explosion on August 4th is a reminder of what the devastation of an entire city, in an instant, can look like.

Today, we may hold a moment of witness to these events with this video recorded by Beirut resident Hoda Melki in her mother’s apartment the day after the explosion.  It is a time to witness intense sorrow, and maybe just a bit of joy.

Sermon –
When Normal is Not an Option
– Rev. Rod


Read: [Downloadable print-ready PDF]

Normality is a contentious topic…

Already in the last few months, we’ve seen how fluid a sense of “normal” can be.  Things that seemed outlandish in February, can feel ordinary by August… or at least, part of the expectations of what day-to-day life looks like in mid-2020.  Normality is not static.

There’s even debate among linguists on whether we should talk about “normality” or “normalcy” – one is considered more acceptable and the other is more widely used in some areas.  Which one is truly “normal”?  It’s hard to say.

The question of “normal” – as slippery as it may be – remains a hot topic these days.  And as we explore that, we might even see that a deeper, more meaningful question appears, on whether “normal” should even be the main goal.

The explosion in Beirut last week appears to have come about amid dire situations in Lebanon, which had become normal, but not what people in Lebanon aspire to have as their ongoing normal.

And that disaster is also a reminder of the other major explosions 75 years ago in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  To one extent, we might welcome the fact that the use of nuclear weapons in warfare has not become a new normal, while we also recognize that the threat of nuclear warfare has remained a normal reality for decades – one which many dedicated people have worked to de-normalize, also for decades.

Sometimes moving beyond normal can be the better option.

So, let us talk about some of the struggles that people can bump into when dealing with what is seen as “normal”.

I have sometimes been asked whether I consider myself a person of colour – sometimes, I’ve been asked this by people of colour.  And even though I’m an immigrant of mixed racial background, I’ve been inclined to say that I do not consider myself a person of colour.

To be sure, there are some aspects of my life that might fall in the category of “racialized” – people sometimes hear a distinct accent when I speak, for instance.  And on my job applications, there is what might be called an “ethnic”-sounding name, and I don’t know if that has worked to my disadvantage, as can be the case for people whose names are racialized.

But most of my life experience reflects that of a white person.  I don’t live with a fear of being profiled in public spaces, and I usually feel safe dealing with authority figures.  Most of my identities intersect in a way that I realistically expect to be taken seriously.  When I speak, people usually listen.

In Canadian society, I essentially feel like what is perceived to be the “default” – for lack of a better description, people see me as normal.

For many people of colour in Canada, being seen as normal has often not been an option.  And that setup has given way to oppression, violence, and other forms of harm.

Since the killing of George Floyd, that reality has become more visible, not just in the United States, but worldwide.  Some of you have participated in giving witness, and offering solidarity, to this struggle for true racial equality.  Some of you have been part of recent conversations hosted by the Canadian Unitarian Council, which have included stories by Black Canadians, who offer witness to a reality in our country that many of us are still working to understand or even acknowledge.

Notably, many people of colour also wish to celebrate their racial heritage, and rather than erase it, or conform to social expectations of what might be perceived as “normal”, the deeper goal is a struggle for recognition of basic dignity, for acknowledgment of shared humanity, for celebration of diverse identities.

In the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, “plus” community – the L G B T Q + community – it is not uncommon to see a complicated relationship with the notion of what is seen as “normal”, or around the drive to be considered “normal”.  Different personal stories from L G B T Q + folks will witness differently around the desire to be seen as normal by a society that sees a straight lifestyle as the norm, or the expected default, with some wishing their sexual orientation or gender identity didn’t represent a reason for standing out, while others might reject the pressure to conform with the larger expectations from society.

We might see this more concretely in conversations leading to the establishment of equal marriage, by which legal recognition of all couples might be seen as a way to be accepted in the mainstream of society.  But not all LGBTQ+ folks have felt that way, and even with today’s reality of access to equal marriage, parts of the community might still see it as irrelevant, or perhaps even harmful, to their identity.

[One of the umbrella terms that is sometimes used for LGBTQ+ folks is Queer, and… there’s still debate as to how acceptable that label is, having been used pejoratively for many years, yet many find it empowering, sometimes precisely because it highlights a certain move away from what others might view as ordinary.]

I’m not sure it’s for me to say whether being seen as normal should or should not be a goal for folks in the LGBTQ+ community. 

And whether or not LGBTQ+ folks want to be seen as part of the norm, the reality is that, for much of history, normal was not option.  And that often meant that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning, intersex, nonbinary, asexual, polyamorous, Two-Spirit, and other sexual and gender minorities were “othered” by society, resulting in oppression, violence, and many other forms of harm.

So, I do wonder if there are more useful questions to ask about how we treat people in our communities and people in our society, beyond whether they are to be considered normal or not, or whether they should be otherwise “normalized” to conformity.  When normal is not an option, and even when it is, I wonder if it might be more… dignified, to ask how we can value people in all their humanity, appreciating, even celebrating aspects of their personhood that might be different from our experience, our preferences, or the perceived majority among society.

One such way that communities around the world do that, often in the summer, is during Pride.  And the name Pride tells us a lot about what it’s about.

Whether or not “normal” is an option, Pride events, commemorations, and celebrations, offer a space where people can give due credit to who they are, to embrace one’s personhood and humanity, however we were born, and however we may see fit to identify during our lives.

Often, these celebrations are in June, commemorating the anniversary of the Stonewall riots, when LGBTQ+ folks made it known that they matter.

[For different local reasons, places like Ottawa and Windsor-Essex offer this space in August, and ordinarily the Windsor-Essex Pride parade would have been today, on August 9, and I would have invited all of us to participate, in solidarity, in witness, and in celebration.

But these are not ordinary times, and that parade won’t happen today.  But that space will still be offered at an alternative time and an alternative place – virtually, on August 22-23.  The normal place and time was not an option, yet recognizing the inherent worth and dignity of different sexual and gender identities will be an option.]

My friends, many of the lessons that the pandemic has revealed call us to look beyond going back to normal – that a rather more meaningful goal would be to move towards better.

My friends, when normal seems like a less appealing option, may we strive toward better.

So may it be,
In Solidarity,

Copyright © 2020 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Closing Hymn #170 We Are a Gentle, Angry People
(Singing for Our Lives)

W & M: Holly Near, 1944- , © 1979 Hereford Music,
arr. by Patrick L. Rickey, 1964- , arr. © 1992 UUA

Interpreted by Michelle Galo

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