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

Reflections on Being a Universalist

November 29th, 2020 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

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

Interpreted by Julie Stubbs

Reflections on Being a Universalist – Dr. Jane Innerd


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

This November we are celebrating the 140th anniversary of the beginning of our congregation.  As part of this year’s celebration I was asked to bring the history of the Church up to date and in doing so had the opportunity to think about my own Universalist heritage and the Church of my youth.  Here at Olinda the land for our Church building was given to the congregation by Big Mike Fox who was a local farmer.  Mr. Fox had been interested in the Universalist idea of salvation for everyone, for at least twenty years before our congregation was founded.  During that time, he and Mrs. Fox distributed Universalist literature locally which they obtained from a publisher in Utica, New York.  They were greatly taken with the idea of a loving God who would not condemn anyone to hell for eternity.  However, at that time the largest Church in Essex County, the Baptist, did not agree with this point of view. The Baptist, in the words of a local citizen, “with renewed vigor, sought to counteract [Universalist] influence by a more literal presentation of an endless hell and kindred doctrines.”

Olinda was founded by converts to this Universalist message of a loving God.  There is some confusion about what the Church was called for its first years but the most likely name was The Church of Our Saviour, thus indicating that the founders considered themselves to be Christian, probably believing in Jesus as the Son of God.  As befitting a Christian Church, Olinda has a communion tray with small glasses now kept in storage.  In the forty years I have been a member here, this tray was used only once when Rev. Martha Munson had a communion service with modern words.  It was not popular.

I remember taking communion with modern words in the Universalist Church I “grew up in” in West Hartford, Connecticut.  That Church was then called The Church of the Redeemer, Universalist.  Like Olinda its name denoted a connection to its Christian foundation.  The Church of the Redeemer is a large brick building with two huge impressive white columns in front and a tall steeple.  The interior is plain as befitting a New England Church, with tall Gothic windows not unlike ours, only much larger.  On the wall behind the pulpit was a large painting in muted colours of a young Jesus sowing seeds.  I wonder if it is still there now because the congregation has moved far beyond this close connection to Jesus.  It is now called the Unitarian Universalist Church of West Hartford.

For thirty-five years the Minister of my Church was Rev. Dr. Wallace Grant Fiske.  He was what I think of as an old time Universalist speaker, like Mr. Thompson the one time I heard him speak here at Olinda.  Rev. Fiske had a broad education and could quote or reference widely from literature.  Although nominally a Christian Church at that time, it was very liberal and belief in Jesus as the son of God, or even belief of a living God, was not required for membership.  Therefore Rev. Fiske was not allowed to be a member of the Council of Christian Churches in the Hartford area.

I was in the Youth Fellowship. We met Sunday afternoons at 5pm for a three-hour meeting.  The first hour was choir rehearsal because the Youth Fellowship was the choir for the early, 9am Sunday Service.  Then we had a pot luck dinner organized by the Mothers of our group of around 30 High Schoolers, and then a meeting.  As a choir member for four years while I was in High School, from the Choir Loft at the back of the Church, I heard many, many sermons.  After High School I lived with my honorary Grandparents and attended Hartford College for Women.  My Granny and I sang in the Adult Choir for the 11am service.  Two more years of sermons!  It was quite an education.

“Love is the Doctrine of this Church.”  That was the beginning of the avowal of faith that we said in unison every Sunday morning.  I remember that Love was frequently the subject of Dr. Fiske’s sermons.  He talked about love in our families, our communities and our world.  He talked about what love is, what it means to love and why it is so important.  He delivered sermons on other important topics such as charity, forgiveness, hope and the UU principles, but it seems to me that Love was a frequent topic.  In my mind I can still hear him say “and the greatest of these is Love.”

As was common in his day, Rev. Fiske occasionally referred to the Bible in his sermons and often used a quotation from the Bible for the Reading.  The Bible quotation, of course, was relevant to the subject of the sermon.  It did mean that I heard a lot of readings from the Bible and also how the verses could be interpreted for a 20th Century audience.  I cannot remember any time when Dr. Fiske mentioned the word hell.  His sermons were about this life and how to live morally, happily, responsibly.  His literary quotations were always apt and interesting.  The Church prospered because Rev. Fiske was such a good speaker.

One outcome of all this Universalist “education” came in handy in High School.  I attended a girls’ school.  Our Headmistress arranged for a Professor from nearby Wesleyan University to come once a week in our Junior Year to instruct us in the Old Testament.  Then in our Senior Year a different Professor came to lecture on the New Testament.  By the end of our Senior Year, all thirty-four of us were exhausted with applying to Universities and getting ready for our final High School exams.  So, when the Professor announced a final exam for our New Testament course, there were groans in the classroom.  One of the girls asked if everyone had to take the exam.  After a moment or two the Professor said that anyone with an A in the course would be exempt.  During the year we had had homework on passages from the New Testament.  We were asked to interpret or explain quotations. I did not find this difficult, after all I had had a lot of instruction from sitting in the Choir Loft.  There were five of us who were exempt: me, the only Universalist in the class, my friend Priscilla, the only Unitarian, and the three Jewish girls.  I love to tell this story.  All the Christian girls took the final exam.

In 1961 I voted for the Unitarian Universalist merger and instantly became a Unitarian Universalist but my roots are in Universalism.  When I left West Hartford, other things happened in my life and I did not regularly attend another Church until I came to Olinda forty years ago.  However, I carried my Universal heritage with me, the benefit of all those sermons.  Of great importance for me during that interval were the Unitarian Universalist Principles, especially the first one, “The inherent worth and dignity of every person.”  I went to University in North Carolina which I told my northern friends was like going to a foreign country and then I lived in England for four years, another foreign country.  In both places I was at first adjusting to people who spoke the same English language but whose thoughts and beliefs had quite a different basis.  But my Universalist belief in the worth and dignity of everyone gave me a touchstone for my own behaviour.  To treat other people with dignity because they have value, I realized at a young age, was how I should behave because I am the only person whose behaviour I can control, no matter who I am with or where I am in the world.

How does a religion control behaviour, you might ask.  Well, one way is to threaten punishment for bad behaviour.  In Christianity that means one’s whole life is judged at death and for a failing grade the possibility of eternity in hell.  We Universalists, like Mr. and Mrs. Mike Fox, believe in a loving God, if we believe in a God at all, and so the possibility of eternity in hell does not motivate us.  However, it is interesting to know that our Universalist idea of eventual salvation is a very old idea.  One of the earliest Christian theologians, Origen, who lived from the year 185 to 253 CE, believed in universal salvation, that all souls would eventually go to heaven. He believed that going to hell first was temporary, a time and place to purify souls to make them ready for heaven.  For this he was declared a heretic.

I think that we Universalists like to think that we have had an influence on Christianity, softening its stance that hell is for eternity.  But here is a recent statement by a Christian Minister in his rebuttal of Universal salvation.  He says “[t]he New Testament explicitly denies Universalism.  Our Lord Jesus speaks repeatedly about the reality of hell, about the gravity of judgment, and about the eternity of hell, that the fire does not go out, that the darkness never ends.”

Even as a child I did not like the idea of a God who was watching over my shoulder and judging all my thoughts and actions.  I guess I was always an agnostic or atheist, meaning for me that I was just not interested.  And I am surprised when I talk with Christians who believe in a literal place of punishment.   I did not grow up with that particular fear.  It is a great motivation if you believe in hell but also, I think, destructive if it engenders fear of a vengeful God and fear of judgment.  Everyone makes mistakes.  We live in a complex world, a world not of right and wrong but instead a world of a huge number of possible choices.  The best we can do is to try to make the best decision possible at the time, to try to be a good family member, good student, good citizen, good worker or good at whatever it is we do. This life has its pleasures and rewards and also regrets and even remorse but for a Universalist not the fear of everlasting punishment.

A few years ago, when I was visiting friends in West Hartford, I visited the Church of my youth.  Inside the sanctuary I climbed up the narrow stairway into the Choir Loft.  As I looked around, I felt thankful for the opportunity I had to hear many, many Universalist sermons, sermons which were focused on this life and on the Unitarian Universalist Principles which have helped me to navigate, as best I can, in the circumstances that have come my way.

Amen and Blessed Be.

Copyright © 2020 Jane A. Innerd

Closing Hymn #134 Our World Is One World
Words & Music: Cecily Taylor, 1930- , © 1988 Stainer & Bell, Ltd., all rights reserved, used by perm. Of Galaxy Music Corporation
Music arr. by Richard Graves, 1926- , © 1988 Stainer & Bell, Ltd.

Interpreted by Cecily Taylor

December 2020 Newsletter

November 27th, 2020 . by William Baylis

Click here and enjoy!

TFW (That Feeling When…)

November 22nd, 2020 . 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

Interpreted by the First Presbyterian Church Oneonta Virtual Service – Posted by Kim Paterson

For All Ages – The Ecstasy of Gold – Ennio Morricone, interpreted by Carolina Eyck on Theremin

Carolina Eyck offers an ecstatic performance of one of the haunting themes from the movie The Good, The Bad and the Ugly by looping her voice and accompanying on theremin – the touchless electronic instrument.

And if you’re interested in learning more about the theremin, Hank Green explains it on SciShow – The Physics of the Weird and Wonderful Theremin

Meditation on Joys & Sorrows

Today we are invited to give witness to some of the events from around the world, which remind us that what touches one affects us all.

  • Friday Nov. 20 was the International Trans Day of Remembrance, to commemorate and memorialize trans people who have been victims of violence as a result of transphobia.
  • Thursday Nov. 19 was World Toilet Day – and while this may sound whimsical, bringing awareness of sanitation (and the lack thereof) is a serious matter that affects billions of people worldwide.
  • This morning, we keep in mind the people of Central and South America, as Hurricane Iota has made landfall in Nicaragua and has affected people across the Americas.
  • And we can share optimism that Covid-19 vaccines are being shown to have high efficacy and their rollout is in the horizon.

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

The Community Church of Chapel Hill

Sermon – TFW (That Feeling When…) – Rev. Rod


Read: [Print-ready PDF file for download]

As we’ve been online for a while, I’ve been sprinkling some “internet-speak” expressions on our sermon titles – the kinds of shorthand that you might find on social media, or those standard abbreviations that you might use when texting on a cell phone.  This month, I’m going to talk about the initials TFW.

Now, I should note that these three particular letters can indeed be used in three distinct orders in “internet-speak” – and each of those abbreviations have distinctly different meanings… so I don’t recommend mixing them up!  For instance, the order FTW can mean “For the Win!”, as in, “Meeting together, apart – for the win!”.

There is also the infamous WTF, which… I won’t spell out here, because… this is a church.  But if you’re still curious, I’m sure someone in your family can clarify its meaning.

Today, our winning combination is TFW – That Feeling When… (dot dot dot).

It’s often used in expressions that denote a strange, yet identifiable, feeling – often a situation that is awkward, such as “That feeling when… someone points out the parsley on your teeth – after coffee hour is over”.  It can also be used in an affirming way, as in “That feeling when… you come home from the field and get to take your boots off”.  And it can also include situations when there are… conflicting emotions, as in “That feeling when… you make your bed perfectly, and now must sleep in it, and ruin it all”.

Perhaps the phrase is so ubiquitous on social media because it is helpful in describing emotions that can be tricky to fully describe, yet we also know that they will be familiar to anyone who’s been in a similar situation.

This year has brought up a lot of “feels”.  In Canada, the past eight months have certainly been quite strange, yet many of us might share a lot of the same feelings about it, alongside the rest of the globe.

Many of us have named “that feeling when… March suddenly turned into November, but it still felt like ten years”

For many in our community, the last month has brought up a wide array of strange, yet commonly shared feelings.

On his opening monologue for Saturday Night Live, on Nov. 7, American Comedian David Chapelle remarked on that feeling he had four years ago… that feeling when the election didn’t go as he had hoped – as he remembered that time four years ago, he asked “remember how bad that felt?” and then he remarked about the present in the United States: “remember that half the country, right now, still feels that way”.  His was a reminder that everyone can hurt, even when it’s for different reasons.  That everyone can feel disappointment – grief and anger – perhaps even fear, when facing defeat.  And that those feelings can be a cue to work towards healing, to act graciously, and remain humble in success.  Because everybody feels.

Indeed, 2020 has probably offered us enough feelings to process for the rest of the decade.  And while some of these feelings might feel odd, or confusing, or simply… complicated, they are also… oddly normal.  And whatever bizarre emotions may be happening with us, as part of the shared reality of 2020, it can be comforting to know that others are sharing this reality with us, and that we are not alone in it.

There can be that feeling when… you see your community come together, stay together, be together – and hold each other.

Not only does sharing in a community allow us to navigate those strange feelings when reality feels odd, but it also allows us to acknowledge and celebrate those feelings when something remarkable happens.

Small, yet significant moments, such as that feeling when… music speaks to us, when art gives us chills, when skill gives way to awe.

I recently watched musician Carolina Eyck’s rendition of The Ecstasy of Gold (which is one of the themes from the movie The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly) playing it on the unusual instrument, the theremin.  Watching Carolina Eyck’s performance certainly gives me that feeling.  And our individual tastes might differ, so I can’t expect it did the same for all of you, but I suspect some of you might share in that feeling, when hearing her play something special.

Each of you will have encounters of beauty that bring you that same feeling.  And, what’s more, there will very likely be others who share that experience.  And even when it doesn’t come from the same experience, there will be others who experience that feeling, when someone’s skill can offer transcendence or ecstasy.

We can also share optimism in the midst of extensive hardship.

That feeling when… the end of the pandemic suddenly seems within grasp.

It’s a complicated feeling… a cautious feeling.  With multiple vaccine candidates on the way, yet likely months till all who need it can get access to it.  There can be a mixed sense of celebration, maybe even an anticipation of relief, alongside a grim anxiety that it may not be fast enough for everyone who is at risk, or everyone who is still struggling.

That feeling when… lightning speed can still be agonizingly slow.

And still, my friends, we can share those strange and complicated feelings when not everything makes sense, or when something special happens, or when we can look forward in anticipation, along with all the risks that lie ahead.  My friends, here we can name, together, that feeling when… life happens.

Because, my friends, we are not alone.  We are not alone in this community.  We are not alone in the wider communities that we are part of.  And we are not alone as beings that can experience… all the feelings.

And, my friends, we can also build those special experiences together.  We do that every Sunday, and whenever else we get together, even when apart.  To remind each other that: we get it, that we can get each other, that we can hold each other – when that feeling comes up.

And we can cultivate those times when that feeling can present itself, making space for special connection.

That feeling when… we worship together.

May we continue to build that space, for that feeling when… we embody the church.

So may it be,
In Solidarity,

Copyright © 2020 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Closing Hymn #100 I’ve Got Peace Like a River
Words: vs. 1-3 Marvin V. Frey, 1918(?)-1992, © 1974 Marvin V. Frey,
vs. 4-6 Anonymous
Music: Marvin V. Frey, © 1974 Marvin V. Frey

Interpreted by the Bay Area Unitarian Universalist Church

Sustaining Our Light

November 15th, 2020 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

National Sunday Service hosted by the Canadian Unitarian Council

Founded on the Faith

November 8th, 2020 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

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

Interpreted by The Community Church of Chapel Hill

Opening Words – Remembrance Day – Lt. Nicole McKay

My friends, as we commemorate our history and our church community on Tuesday, Nov. 10, we also remember those who have served in the face of armed conflict on Wednesday, Nov. 11.  To honour this, Lt. Nicole McKay, a Unitarian Universalist seminarian and chaplain candidate for the Canadian Armed Forces, has shared these words with congregations across Canada.

For All Ages – History of Olinda (Slideshow) – Toni Janik and Membership Committee

Our Membership Committee has put together a Slideshow with highlights of our history, including striking photos from our past and present.

You can download the Slideshow to print, or to view on your device!

Olinda 140th Anniversary Slideshow (in PDF)

Hymn #290 Bring, O Past, Your Honor
~)-| Words: Charles H. Lyttle, 1884-1980
Music: John Bachus Dykes, 1823-1876

Tune “Nicea” Interpreted by Evan Brickner on the St. Patrick’s Cathedral Organ, Harrisburg, PA

1 Bring, O Past, your honor; bring, O Time, your harvest,
golden sheaves of hallowed lives and minds by Truth made free;
come, you faithful spirits, builders of this temple:
“To Holiness, to Love, and Liberty.”

2 Ring, in glad thanksgiving, bell of grief and gladness,
forth to town and prairie let our festal greeting go.
Voices long departed in your tones re-echo:
“Praise to the Highest, Peace to all below.”

3 Shrine of frontier courage, Sinai of its vision,
home and hearth of common quest for life’s immortal good,
stand, in years oncoming, sentinel of conscience,
as through the past your stalwart walls have stood.

4 Church of pure reformers, pioneers undaunted,
company of comrades sworn to keep the spirit free;
long o’er life’s swift river preach th’eternal gospel:
faith, hope, and love for all humanity.

Sermon – Founded on the Faith – Rev. Rod


Read: [Print-ready PDF available for download]

At the crossroads of Olinda Side Road and 5th Concession, in Ruthen, you can see the cornerstone of our church building.  That stone was laid down just over one hundred and thirty-nine years ago, and the building has housed our Church for most of our Church’s life.  That building is significant and we will celebrate it in due time.  But as we breathe, we know that our church transcends our dear building, as we witness at this moment, while our church gathers in this virtual space.

Putting the technology aside for a moment, this is not all that different from the way our Church’s founders gathered a hundred and forty years ago, as they founded it, even without something that could be called a permanent home.  As I have said for the past eight months, even before the building’s foundations were laid, our church was there, founded on something even stronger than stone or wood – our faith that love is the most powerful force for good.

Where does this faith come from?

Already this year, we have reviewed some of the historical roots of our tradition, and into this year, we will continue remembering and honouring the past that has led to how we live our faith today.  So, I won’t do an extensive historical review here, but would like to recall a sense of our roots.

As we’ve talked about this year, the foundations of a universalist theology, that saw divine love as all-encompassing, were already a part of the Early Christian Church, and for a while may have been, in fact, the prevailing understanding of Christianity, before being declared heretical in the 6th century.

The resurgence to a universalism that we know today, comes from English religious refugees and continued to emerge into New England, as well as Pennsylvania, where universalist thought permeated throughout different denominations, including the Society of Friends (Quakers) and some anabaptists.  Many folks, in questioning their theology came to the conclusion that the most powerful love there can be, is the one that ultimately accepts everyone, even if it requires tremendous patience, and calls for extensive self-reflection.  John Murray was one of these folks, and last month, a place named in his honour, Murray Grove, hosted a virtual service commemorating 250 years of that universalist root in North America, which we were able to join.

There have been shifts in our understanding, our professing, and our living of this faith that we are founded on.  To paraphrase Jane Innerd in her latest account of our history, the universal has been writ ever larger, and the ism writ ever smaller, so that from ancient Christian roots, we understand and live a faith that seeks to transcend religious labels for the sake of a common vision of love that is accessible to all.

The other “U” in our current name, Unitarianism, has some of its earliest roots in Transylvania, now part of present-day Hungary, where king Sigismund heeded advice that a religious harmony called for understanding among many faiths.

From old England, to New England; Pennsylvania and Transylvania, folks who have refused to be tied down by rigid doctrine, have searched for a theology that will invite deep connection with all who will seek it.

And that is a call that our Church’s founders heard, when they established an intentional community that placed their faith in an all-encompassing understanding of love, without exceptions, formally founding this Church – this community of fellowship – on November 10, 1880.

They gathered as they could, until “Big” Mike Fox, who subscribed to this approach, was so moved that he donated a portion of his farm, to offer a more stable home for this already founded Church, commemorated in the stone laid on September 21, 1881.

Looking back over 140 years, some things look eerily familiar with that time when we were founded.  Just as our founders first met by sharing their homes, each of our homes currently offer the physical walls that house our Church.  First with about 23 members, and an eventual attendance between 24 and 35 around the turn of the 20th century, our group is only slightly larger.  From the beginning, there have been occasional worries about money and the prospects of our community’s sustainability, and through those worries, we have prevailed, through the perseverance and generosity of members and other supporters who find fellowship, knowledge and inspiration among all who seek truth, to live responsibly and courageously, and be of service to humanity.

Still, some things look different.  In addition to the morning service, we find other ways to be the church, such as the coffee hour that was introduced by Rev. Conrad Dippel, which continues when we do meet in person, and which we also honour in the virtual space of our online services.  Other legacies may be more sublte – the fact that I join you today from my home near Lake Erie, rather than the parsonage at the crossroads, is a legacy of Rev. Martha Munson.

Looking at Jane Innerd’s latest account of our history, I have to say that I was humbled when I saw my name as part of the history of this Church.  And what struck me even more is all the other names that were mentioned.  Names which often include people who I can see right now, at this gathering.  In fact, many of the names that I call out on Sunday mornings, acknowledging their contributions to our Sunday services, are names that often came up in these pages.  There are also names that I don’t immediately recognize, as well as names that aren’t there, but which are also part of our history.

In her latest account, Jane Innerd remarks – “It is not possible to name all of the people who volunteer their time and talents at Olinda. […] Our volunteers are many and greatly valued.  Indeed everyone who attends Church Services is a volunteer who helps to keep Olinda a vibrant Church.”

My friends, you who are join in this reflection – wherever you might be today – make part of the living history of our Church of Olinda.  A celebration of our church, is a celebration of you.  A commemoration of our church, is a commemoration of all who have gone before us, named and unnamed.  And contemplation about our heritage, is also contemplation about the heritage we seek to leave for those who are still with us and those who come after us.

My friends, a hundred and forty years may feel like an intimidating amount of heritage to contend with, but you continue to co-create this heritage as you embody the faith that this Church was founded on.  My predecessor, Rev. Christine Hillman invites us to “…lean into its heritage for strength and insight”.

Recently, I heard a speech that invoked an inspiring thought, to not just keep the faith, but to spread the faith.

My friends, we spread our faith by our words and by our actions.  And our words and our actions are the product of our personal and community efforts to contemplate, to commemorate, and to celebrate, that which is most dear to us – our values, which stem from a foundation on the power of love.

My friends, this year, and beyond – let us contemplate, let us commemorate, and let us celebrate this foundation, that we may keep and spread this faith.

So may it be,
Blessed be,
In Solidarity,

Copyright © 2020 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

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

Interpreted by Julie Stubbs

RIP (Rest in Power)

November 1st, 2020 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Hymn #196 Singer of Life
Words: From a Texcoco Nahuatl poem
Music: Native American melody, harmony by Richard Proulx, 1937- ,
© 1986 G.I.A. Publications, Inc.

Tune on organ, offered by First Unitarian Church of Baltimore

1 Singer of Life, all flowers are songs,
with petals do you write.
Singer of Life, you color the earth,
dazzling the eye with birds red and bright.
Joy is for us! The flowers are spread!
Singing is our delight!

2 Mortal are we, with all living things,
with eagles in the sky.
Even all gold and jade will not last;
singing alone, I know, cannot die.
Here in this house of springtime bestow
songs that like birds can fly.

For All Ages – The Altar
Coming from my Mexican heritage, I have invited the Church of Olinda to join in the tradition of remembering our dead around the Mexican Days of the Dead (November 1 and 2).

Today, we shared photos and names of some of our departed loved ones, along with some of the our fond memories of them.

Olinda Names of Remembrance 2020 (Photo slideshow in PDF)

Also, on Sunday, November 1, 2020, in Leamington, ON, there was an Ofrenda – an altar or shrine of remembrance for Migrant Workers who have died on the job.

Sermon – RIP (Rest in Power) – Rev. Rod


Read: [Print-ready PDF document for download]

My friends, it’s been that kind of year…

Death has been more present in our minds, in our lives, and in our communities, than what seems usual – it’s an unusual year.

In addition to a number of deaths in our congregation, and in the families of our members, the global manifestation of death has been especially present as we look at the daily mounting numbers of Covid-19 cases and deaths, as attested by health authorities around the world.

It’s been that kind of year – when mortality feels closer to our lives than we might be used to.  When the risk of death feels less hypothetical, and the reality of death seems to be literally outside our doors.

Many of us count among those who are called mourners, and some of us are also contemplating when mourning may once again be an immediate part of our lives.

It’s been that kind of year.

In our larger local community, we’ve also seen how certain systems may put some people at more risk than others.  Folks who live and work in long term care, for instance, have been more prone to being infected with, and dying from, Covid-19.

Similarly, the way some shared accommodations are set up for some of the migrant workers in our community, also put them at higher risk of infection, and in at least three cases, dying from this pandemic’s virus.

It’s been that kind of year.

Alongside the deaths in our immediate community, as well as the deaths we see mounting each day around the world, we have seen some notable deaths that have drawn greater attention to current realities of systemic oppression.

Over the summer, we saw the violent killing of George Floyd at the hands of police, which renewed attention to the Black Lives Matter movement.  His has not been the only such killing, though it was one of the more graphically and clearly documented ones, exposing very powerfully a reality of systemic racism, which we have also seen in Canada, and around the world.

Also over the summer, we learned that US Senator John Lewis died, and he was one of the leaders of the civil rights movement, alongside Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., reminding us that the fight against systemic oppression has been going on for a long time.

Upon the deaths of George Floyd and Senator John Lewis, there is a phrase that is often seen alongside their names – Rest in Power.

Rest in Power – a variation of Rest in Peace, that highlights the power struggles involved in their lives and deaths.  This phrase has been around in the public record for about 20 years, and is used particularly in tribute to those who have lived and died surrounded by systemic oppression.  In addition to people of colour, it is also common to hear it among LGBTQ+ folks, and particularly in remembering trans people, who have died a premature death.

Now, it is not my place to… police, how one uses this phrase.  I should, however, make note of some etiquette that goes along with the phrase Rest in Power.  And by “etiquette”, I mean more than simply being polite for the sake of social acceptance, but more powerfully, as a way of being respectful to the roots and origins of a practice that is borne from oppression.  So, to be clear, I am not inviting you to replace, Rest in Peace with Rest in Power, but rather to consider that someone’s life’s struggles, particularly when facing systemic oppression, allow us to see a different dimension to someone’s life.

I am also mindful that systemic oppression takes many forms – some of which have often been, and are, invisible.

More broadly, I find a certain truth in the phrasing of “rest in power”, as a reminder that the dead leave a powerful legacy for the living.

And not all of these legacies are powerful in the positive sense of the word – many lives gone before can leave scars that take time to heal, even beyond someone’s death… perhaps an oppressive power that the living need to struggle to overcome.

And yet, my friends, many other lives leave a powerful inspiration for the living, offering an example of ways to overcome adversity.  Often, this power was clearly visible during a person’s life and endures profoundly after their death.

Also quite often, my friends, this power only becomes clear after their death, and perhaps even in ways they might not have anticipated.

My friends, we may not always know how our actions will impact – hopefully benefit – others, and yet, with a commitment of mindful intentionality and an openness to ongoing learning and growth, we may well find hidden power in our lives, and quite likely beyond death.

My friends, our lives become legacy, often whether we mean to or not.  And today, we remember those whose legacies endure in our lives.  From whom we’ve inherited powerful inspiration, and even opportunities for struggle and growth.

May all who have struggled against power,
who have found power,
who have offered power,
Rest in Power

May all who have sought peace,
Rest in Peace

Peace on the dead
Peace on the living
Peace on all mourners
Peace on all of us

In Solidarity,
With the living and the dead,

Copyright © 2020 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel