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


October 31st, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Opening Hymn #128 For All That Is Our Life
~)-| Words: Bruce Findlow, 1922-
Music: Patrick L. Rickey, 1964- , © 1992 UUA

Rev. Christopher Watkins Lamb for Foothills Unitarian Church (9 August, 2020)

Time for All Ages – “What is Day of the Dead?” – Religion for Breakfast

“What is Day of the Dead?” – Religion for Breakfast, with Dr. Andrew Chesnut (24 October, 2021)

Remembrance Ceremony

These morning, many of our members shared memories of their dearly departed.

The photos in this printable slideshow are being shared with permission.

Honoring our Ancestors (printable slideshow)

Reflection – Lamentations – Rev. Rod


Read: [Printable PDF document available for download]

Lamentation, Celebration, and Gratitude can often come together.  These are strong – sometimes contradictory – emotional realities that can coexist.  When we remember and honour our ancestors, as many of us did this morning, we are bound the feel the sadness, maybe the pain of loss that came with their death.

Somewhere along the line, it can also be difficult to escape the joy that loved ones have brought us, recalling the delight of their company, the laughter that came with times together.  And along all this, we can build a practice of gratitude, being thankful for the opportunity we had to share our lives, even if briefly.

These don’t necessarily happen all at once, but somewhere along the journey, it is common for these to blend in a bittersweet brew – these realities can coexist.

My friends, this has been a difficult year, as we have been witnesses to death at a larger scale than usual.  Even for those among us whose life may have been less impacted by death in your immediate life, we have all been reminded of its presence with more frequency, just about every day.  This was a reality we faced late last year, and so we do again late in this year.

Also, toward the end of last year, we began to see many glimmers of hope toward ending the crisis of the pandemic, and this year has allowed us to witness parts of that hope bearing fruit.  Most of us here are walking participants in the efforts to contain the pandemic and effectively reducing the risks that come with it.

These realities co-exist.

In addition to the losses that we have named today, we are also paying our respects to the many deaths we know about around the world.  As of this morning, the death count from Covid-19 is about to cross the threshold into 5 million deaths.  That’s 5 million confirmed deaths… it is estimated that the true total is already much higher than that.  With similar grimness, it is likely that, this coming month, the total confirmed number of cases will surpass a quarter of a billion.

Alongside these realities, we can also express gratitude to the many souls who have given of their lives, and sometimes their very lives, in the work of taking care of us and those we love.  The healthcare workers, the care staff, the scientists, the retail and grocery workers, the first responders, and too many people and professions to name.  Some of them died doing what they love, others continue, sometimes wondering if they still love what they do.  All of them offering and having had offered essential service.  And for that we are grateful.

Just as the tally of deaths and infections are nearing grim thresholds, there are other inspiring thresholds we are facing.  Within the next few days, total doses of vaccines are on track to surpass 7 billion.  Of course, due to the multiple required doses of many vaccines, the total vaccination rate is lower – still, this coming week, we are likely to see that half of the world’s population has received at least one dose, and already, significantly more than a third of the world population has been fully vaccinated.

These are both encouraging and disappointing numbers.  It is incredible that we have reached those levels of immunization over the past year – many authorities doubted it would be possible to even begin that process by this time of this year.  And still, the numbers are not quite where they need to be to really offer the protection needed for everyone to be safe, particularly many who remain among the most vulnerable populations to begin with.

My friends all these realities can coexist, and we can acknowledge them together.

My friends, today we sit with lamentation, we are open to celebration, and we offer our gratitude.

My friends, today we live with these realities, and we honour them together.

So may it be,
In Solidarity, in love, in faith,

Copyright © 2021 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Closing Hymn #322 Thanks Be for These
~)-| Words: Richard Seward Gilbert, 1936- , and
~)-| Joyce Timmerman Gilbert, 1936 , © 1992 Unitarian Universalist Association
Music: Hungarian Melody, 16th cent.,
~)-| arr. by Robert L. Sanders, 1906-

Jess Huetteman (27 March, 2021)

Spending the Allowance

October 24th, 2021 . 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

Unitarian Universalist Church Utica (28 February, 2021)

Sermon – Spending the Allowance – Rev. Rod


Read: [Printable PDF document available for download]

A couple years ago, I mentioned that disclosing to a new acquaintance that I am a minister of religion can lead to… interesting conversations.  And a common outcome of this kind of conversation can be a kind of litany of questions about what I am “allowed” to do.  These are often questions about what kind of family I can have (or if I can have any kind of family), or about what lifestyle I can lead, including what I can eat or drink, or about what I am allowed to say – sometimes people wonder if can swear.

I’m often amused by this kind of conversation.  It’s not that it’s entirely unexpected – there is baggage that comes with religion and the people involved in it – but it strikes me that the question of what is allowed, and of what rules we’re expected to follow, often seems to take a disproportionate amount of attention in comparison to what actually occupies my mind in ministry, or what drew me to this community of faith in the first place.

And it turns out that we do have a set of rules, or at least a code of conduct that we pledge to observe.  This happens to include some firm directives, though it is largely a set of guidelines that outline a set of best practices toward a more responsible ministry.

And if you’re still wondering, swearing is not specifically prohibited, though there are some guidelines around appropriate speech, which might often be interpreted as a call to be… judicious when using hard language.

This question of how we use speech has been particularly trendy over the last several years, both in society at large, as well as in the Unitarian Universalist community.

There are times when someone’s speech has been harmful to others, and the people who are harmed can often include folks who have been already marginalized by varied systems of oppression.  I have seen that when this kind of harmful speech is named, the conversation is often framed as a matter of what people are “allowed” to say, and harmful speech is defended as exercise in free speech.

And it can be true that most kinds of harmful speech are protected by our legal and cultural norms of free speech.  It can also be true that naming it for the harms that it does is also an exercise in free speech itself.  I find that, when framing it as a matter of whether it’s allowed or not, it kind of misses the larger point around the value that speech, and how it is used, has on our society, our communities, and our relationships.  I also find that, in many cases when people claim that their speech is being disallowed, the people making that claim already have an extensive platform, which they are usually free to continue using.

As a minister of religion, I have been entrusted with a somewhat high-profile platform… sometimes literally, as I do when I stand on the chancel that holds up the pulpit in our building.  By definition, my job is largely to say things for people to hear them.  I not only have the freedom of speech that most of us enjoy in this country, but I also have, contractually and by tradition, the freedom of the pulpit.  From a certain perspective, this could be interpreted as me being able to say pretty much whatever I want.

But I don’t.

It may perhaps surprise some of you that, in my work, a good deal of the thought and time that I put in it, is in fact spent deciding on things that I won’t say… that I realize I don’t want to say, or that perhaps I don’t’ need to say.  In other words, I filter my speech.

Now some folks might consider this practice of filtering as censoring myself… and depending on how you define or view censorship, that might be true.  But most of the time, I don’t really see it that way – rather, I see it as being disciplined so that my free speech may also be – as Buddhist teachings call it – right speech… useful speech, helpful speech, responsible speech.

And while this might make the work more challenging, and I may well at times feel hindered by this practice, I actually feel – in the balance – quite liberated.  Because even within the constraints that I am held by – often, by which I choose to hold myself – I have a great deal of freedom… in fact, the constraints that I accept allow me to have an enduring freedom to say what I feel is necessary.

This works at different levels.

At a merely practical – perhaps even cynical – level, we could say that it’s simply a matter of self-interest.  It is in my self-interest to watch my speech.

Just as our tradition recognizes and affirms our religious professionals’ freedom of the pulpit, it also proclaims a congregation’s freedom of the purse.  It is, ultimately the congregation which calls a minister, and it is the congregation which… makes decisions on ministerial transitions.  And you’ll be aware that this isn’t just theoretical either, our tradition has ample examples of congregations exercising this prerogative.  So, at a basic level, it may make sense that I watch what I say, lest my speech lead to some harder conversations.

But this particular scenario is not usually what I have in mind when I filter my speech.  The kind of consequences that I tend to worry about are much broader, and include considerations that are as much for others’ sake as they are for my sake.

Because if I don’t watch my speech, and speak irresponsibly, I’m aware that I may hurt someone, or break trust and perhaps lead to the breakdown of relationships, not to mention hinder my ability to lead in this community.  There is still an element of self-interest, in that these are not things that I want for myself – and they come with a consideration that it is also against the community’s interest.

So, the real reason for a practice of considered speech – “filtering” my speech – is a more essential philosophical and theological concern with how it will impact where I am and who I am with.  It is neither entirely selfish nor selfless… it’s something I like to think about as “self-full” – a practice that will help me cultivate a more wholesome relationship with all whom I interact with.

And this doesn’t mean that I only look to say things that will please… it is my job, contractually and by tradition, to say things that may be challenging or uncomfortable, even if these might seem unpopular in the moment.  My covenant is to choose speech that will direct this church toward greater spiritual growth.

And this is where the question shifts from a matter of what I am allowed to say, to a question of what makes sense for me to say that will serve us better.  And when ministry is based on service, being thoughtful about what is said and how it’s said – considering how it will serve – then speech can be ministry.

Now I’ve spent a lot of time speaking about how this applies to my ministry, and that’s partly because these are pretty central parts of my profession and my vocation.  It’s literally my job, as I stand on this platform.

Here’s the kicker – this is also part of your ministry… it is part of our shared ministry.

My friends, in our free and responsible search for truth and meaning, we covenant to enjoy and exercise our access to options, to experiment, and be ready to fail so that we may learn from mistakes or occasionally, as Bob Ross might say, “happy accidents”.  We also covenant to practice and perform actions that are considered and considerate, to follow a discipline and a discipleship that invites us to think before acting – while being bold enough not to overthink, lest our actions lose impact.  This covenant invites us to employ a measure of self-regulation, of self-evaluation, of self-reflection.  That is another practice of accountability.

My friends, this accountability does not mean that every single word has to be correct – accountability does not demand perfection.  It is impossible to imagine every single outcome from what we say and how it will impact others.  It does mean that when our understanding of our speech is invited to expand in considering others more thoughtfully, we may be open to listen and grow into deeper relationship.

My friends, our covenantal tradition offers space for grace, and it calls us to spiritual growth.

So may it be,
In Solidarity, in covenant, in faith,

Copyright © 2021 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

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

Sandra Hunt and Eleuthera Diconca-Lippert (Unitarian Church of Montreal) (21 May 2021)


October 17th, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Opening Hymn #347 Gather the Spirit
~)-| Words & music: Jim Scott, 1946- , © 1990 Jim Scott

Performed by the UU Society of Grafton and Upton, Massachusetts (22 December, 2020)

Time for All Ages – Jane Goodall on How Kids Can Make a Difference

Posted by T.A. Barron (5 April, 2018)

Homily – Hope – Sarah Wert


Read: [Printable PDF available for download]

In the past, I have undergone periods of deep depression. These are times that are prominently marked by the fact that I am unable to have any hope. During these times, my future seems utterly bleak and empty. Months pass in meaninglessness until suddenly a subtle undercurrent of hope returns to my outlook on life.

About 7 years ago, I had been living for many months in a profound state of depression, during which I was sure that nothing good could come out of my life, just by virtue of who I was as a person. But one day I found myself online, searching the Bath Bed and Beyond website for items to newly furnish the home I shared with Rod.

Rod would tell me later that he knew my depression was on the wane when he noticed me searching for cushions and rugs that would make our living space cozier to live in – in the future. I was once again able to feel that life could be worth living, that life was worth planning for, that life could be meaningful. Hope was returning to me, even if I hadn’t been able to realize it myself at first. And something striking was that it was returning without much effort on my part. Also, once hope had been re-established in my psyche, it was as if it had never left.

I suppose I’d never really thought very much about what hope actually is. Perhaps I’d taken it for granted that, as American poet Emily Dickenson wrote,

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

But, As I’ve already illustrated, there have been times when hope has stopped for me. This fact got me thinking:  If hope is such a crucial part of life, how, then, was I able to continue? The conclusion I came to is this: the people who love me – Rod, my family, my friends – held onto hope in my stead when I could not. They nurtured a sense of hope in the world – as well as maintaining hope in me myself, believing that life was abundantly worthwhile, and believing that I was a worthwhile person – and that I had the capacity to recover.

But it took hard work and dedication for my loved ones to keep hope within their grasp. It took being very intentional and it took pushing forward, even when I made that difficult for them, even if unintentionally, because of my hopeless outlook.

Upon reflecting on this, I realized two things: 1) that my understanding of hope is that it is fostered and maintained through connections and community, and 2) that hope requires hard work. Mariame Kaba, an American activist and educator whose work focuses on transformative justice, among other things, conceives of hope as a discipline. This resonates with me. If I am to truly embody hope, I need to make my goals clear and to dedicate myself to achieving them.

But I think it’s important to make a distinction between hope and optimism. As described by Arthur Brooks in his column for the Atlantic,  

optimism is the belief that things will turn out all right; hope makes no such assumption but is a conviction that one can act to make things better in some way

Dr. Jane Goodall, who was featured in the video clip I played earlier, is someone who has very much made the world a better place. She is also  a profoundly hopeful person. She is acutely aware of the trauma and turmoil that envelops our world, and she is not entirely optimistic about the future of our planet but she has, throughout her long and illustrious career, worked exceedingly hard to bring about change.

Dr. Goodall is perhaps best known for her ground-breaking work demonstrating that chimpanzees use tools, but her legacy goes so far beyond that, including conservation work and seemingly tireless activism that has inspired people around the world to themselves take action.

One thing she has done is to found an educational program called Roots and Shoots that inspires young people to realize their capacity for bringing about environmental change in the world, and although Roots and Shoots began in 1991 with 12 students in Tanzania, there are now Roots and Shoots groups running in over 100 countries.

Goodall has stated that her reasons for hope are human intellect, the resiliency of nature, when given a chance, the enthusiasm and determination of young people when they know the problems and are empowered to take action, and the indomitable human spirit.  As someone who works with children on a daily basis, I very much agree with her assessment of the enthusiasm and determination of young people! There is so much zeal and strength and character, and indomitable spirit in each infant I have the privilege of interacting with.

An older demographic than infants, but still quite young, is Generation Z, people born between roughly 1997 and 2012. This is painting them with a broad brush, I know, but a couple key characteristics of this generation include that, more than previous generations, they embrace diversity, and that they are politically progressive. I find this to be profoundly hopeful.

Members of Generation Z who are making real change in the world include indigenous water-defender Autumn Peltier, climate activist Greta Thunberg, and Malala Yousafzai, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for her work on children’s rights to education. Each of these remarkable individuals has been instrumental in inspiring entire movements full of people supporting each other in doing the work of hope – and holding hope for each other when they veer toward hopelessness.

My hope is that we may all hold hope for one another, as a community of generosity, dedication and love.

Copyright © 2021 Sarah Wert

Hymn #161 Peace! The Perfect Word
Words: Odell Shepard, 1884-1967
Music: From The Southern Harmony, 1835, harmonized by Alastair Cassels-Brown, 1927- , arr. © 1982 The Church Pension Fund

Posted by Unitarian Universalists San Luis Obispo (27 September, 2021)

What We Count On

October 10th, 2021 . 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

Posted by Paul Thompson for the UUCP in Moscow ID

Sermon – What We Count On – Rev. Rod


Read: [Printable PDF available for download]

Last week I mentioned that, leading up to seminary, I started reading a certain book.  Today, I won’t get into the specifics of the book, other than to say that I re-read it again into my first year of seminary and brought it out wherever I might have a bite to eat or wherever I might have some time to sit around.

And one of those places was a greasy-spoon around the corner from the university.  They had all-day breakfast, including a “student special”, and I found it convenient that it was less than a five-minute walk to most of my classes.

Suffice it to say that I came around there a few times per week.  It didn’t take long before the server began to ask me if I’d have “the usual”.  And I found it unexpectedly comforting that I had someone who would ask me that question.

It didn’t take much longer until I could simply walk into the diner, plunk myself down on a seat, open my book, and – when I looked up a few minutes later – there would be a warm cup of coffee, right next to a plate, with the right number eggs, done the way I liked them, with my favourite sides, and my preferred bread done how I needed it to be done.

Now, I haven’t gone into any of the specifics of my breakfast preferences… but you know who knew all those details?  My regular server.  She knew the specs without flaw.  I came to count on it.

There are times when a pattern like this might seem, or feel, like a rut… a stubborn monotony that could use livening up.  But during those school years, juggling a heavy course load, and a shifting work schedule, that breakfast student special was a welcome anchor to my week.  I knew that, whether it was early in the morning, or late in the afternoon, I could walk in and find a meal.  I knew what it would cost, how much it would feed me, how much I’d enjoy it, and who would serve it to me, without even having to ask – we’d save our words for chitchat instead.  I could count on it.

There were other unexpected details that I started counting on… as much as I fancied myself a regular, I learned that there were higher calibre regulars.  Even though this diner categorically did not take reservations, there was always one booth with a “reserved” sign on it between 11am and 1pm, for the lady that lived upstairs and who always ate lunch there.  The diner could count on her being there, and they reserved her place.  I once made the mistake of sitting on the “forbidden booth” during lunchtime, and my server politely explained the situation, as she offered me another seat, before going to get me “the usual”.

Of course, in life, there are very few absolutes.  Some things did change.  Occasionally, my regular server might have been off duty and I’d have to spell out my usual order.  A couple times, I did have to give the server a heads-up that I was in the mood for something different that particular day.  At least once, inflation crept in, and the student special had a slightly different price tag – still a good deal, but the dollar amount was higher than when I first started going there.

One day, I noticed that the “reserved” sign was nowhere to be seen during lunchtime, and my regular server assured me that, yes, I could go sit on the “forbidden booth” – turns out the regular lady had moved out to a different condo.

Eventually, I moved out, as I followed my calling and took a ministerial internship in another city.  What we count on will change along with our circumstances and our needs.

Noticing these things that we count on – even if only for stretches at a time – is part of the practice of gratitude that can enrich our lives by replenishing our “wellness accounts”.  And if we do our housekeeping, at least every so often, we might find that we are richer than we thought.  And in Canada, this weekend is just one of those times when we intentionally set ourselves out to do just that.

We spoke last week about the housekeeping that comes with taking account of our stories and our histories.  This includes taking a sincere look at our lives as they are, affirmations and painful moments alike, so that we may have a better sense of who we are, how we might be more of who we think we are, who we want to be, and how we want to be.

An honest account – or at least, as honest as we can make it – is key to making real progress for ourselves, our communities, and all our relations.  And failing to do this can land us in trouble.

It so happens that Canadian Thanksgiving tends to land around the same time as the somewhat newly-established Indigenous Peoples Day in the United States, on October 11 this year.  This is around the date that was originally observed as the anniversary of the Christopher Columbus landing in the Caribbean in 1492… a date which symbolizes the beginning of colonialism in the Americas, and which, until recently, was widely called “Columbus Day” in the United States.

Of course, U.S. Thanksgiving falls later in the year, and its story has also been mythologized in a way that depicts a rather incomplete and inaccurate account of colonialism in North America.

Here, we just had a newly-established National Day for Truth and Reconciliation last month.  So, this is a time in both countries, when we can also make and renew intentions toward a more wholesome understanding and awareness of our history, in the journey toward truth, toward healing, toward reconciliation.  That’s part of remaining accountable to each other and all our relations.

We have also talked about how giving thanks – acts of gratitude – can be a kind of accountability.  As it, too, is an exercise in deepening awareness.

In much the same way that some of the more difficult parts of our stories can sometimes be glossed over when we record our stories in a certain way – hindering us from really taking stock of our reality – it can also be true that we sometimes forget to keep track of those things that sustain us, that can keep us going, that can bring joy into our lives.  And losing track of these can also get us into trouble.

Now, when exercising gratitude, it can be tempting to proceed as if blessings and curses were “assets” and “liabilities” in a regular “ledger” account, where one of each would cancel the other out… making it some kind of game in which the left and right columns fight each other out to see if we can stay in the black, lest we find ourselves in the red.

But a more helpful practice of gratitude might be in taking a slightly different logic.  Rather than tallying up our problems, and see if counting our blessings can “cancel” out our “deficits”, a more radical thanksgiving might look, not at ignoring or forgetting our issues, and rather seek clarity and awareness in what can sustain us through them.

As we’ve discussed, ignoring or forgetting our issues – our “liabilities” – can land us in trouble, and stall real improvements.  Naming these, in fact, can be quite liberating… sometimes, that’s all we need when we seek out a listening ear, or a shoulder to cry on.

A radical gratitude, in turn, does not call us to skip over these “liabilities”, and rather look at what else we have with us, alongside everything else that is in our lives.  This is to say, taking stock of our “wellness account” – the “assets” that can keep us company, maybe even get us through the tough times.

What these are, the things that we count on, can be very personal.  Very often, people will name… people as their assets – friends, family, communities.  What we count on can also be places – home, the places you live in, the neighbourhood, the local place where you might be a regular.  What we count on can be activities, sports or exercise, comfort watching favourite shows or movies… relaxing, when possible, can be one of those anchors that we count on.  What we count on can even be things – a dear keepsake, an heirloom, a photo, a memento.

My friends, in this community, we count on each other.  Sometimes, things might look a bit different, as circumstances and needs change.  The people that have served our church change from time to time, lay and ordained.  The way we gather, the way we stay connected, the way we do worship, the way we do church – these have shifted and will continue to shift.

My friends, we may count on one another, even as each of us and our community continues to face challenges and struggles.  My friends, we may exercise the practice of radical gratitude, not by overlooking or ignoring whatever painful or unpleasant experiences we have, but by counting on all that which carries us through all of it, and by celebrating that which we care to honour.  Radical gratitude offers us not a way to “outcount our deficits” but a practice toward being more deeply aware of what is with us.

My friends, so may we be graced.
In Solidarity, in Love, in Gratitude

Copyright © 2021 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

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.

Brian Mittge (22 November, 2020)

October 2021 Newsletter

October 4th, 2021 . by William Baylis

Click here and enjoy!

Accounting for Theologians

October 3rd, 2021 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Time for All Ages – Rabbi Aimee Gerace

Rabbi Aimee Gerace Handling Her Business – Working Mom Life – Rosh Hashana 2021, from Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center (20 September, 2021)

Sermon – Accounting for Theologians – Rev. Rod


Read: [Printable PDF available for download]

In the insurance industry, it has happened that, when an actuary mentioned their profession, they were asked if they were some sort of accountant… with a self-deprecating sense of humour, their reply was that actuaries are the people who “don’t have the personality to be accountants”.  And still, actuaries and accountants alike can have a deeper range of dimension than they might get credit for – I once saw an actuary play a theremin.

And the practice of accounting itself can have a number of dimensions.  First, a personal story…

Leading up to seminary, I took it upon myself to read the Bible cover-to-cover.  Now, this was not actually required for any of my classes or by any of my supervisors – I simply wanted to get a fuller sense of how the collection of texts is laid out, and what kind of narrative emerges when one reads it from Genesis to Revelation.

The process took several months – about a year in fact – as I budgeted a few chapters per day, and I would bring out the book at different spots… while sipping my coffee at a diner after breakfast, while on a break at work, or relaxing at a neighbourhood café.  This would often catch the attention of nearby table-mates, who would ask me what I was doing.

Sometimes, when I told them I was reading the whole Bible, I’d learn that a number of them have tried this, and a surprising amount of them would succeed.  But the most common outcome would be that they only got a few chapters in… usually tapping out at “the begats”.  And if you’ve ever tried this, you might know what I’m talking about – those long passages of genealogy, when the only narrative is an account of people meeting, giving birth to someone, and then that person growing up, meeting someone, and begetting someone else, in a long chain of parental lineage.

I got through “the begats” just fine – and they came up every so often.  And I also noticed that this practice went beyond genealogy… there were other portions of the biblical text that were quite keen to focus on more of the “housekeeping” aspects of the story.

Beyond family trees, there were catalogues of property, cattle, bronze houseware, even the odd census of a population – perhaps the most notable one of which is in the aptly named book of Numbers, which really does live up to its name, having several accounts of the population of the tribes of Israel, accounts which are interspersed with more… dynamic narratives throughout the book.

When folks read these portions of scripture nowadays, it may not seem all that enticing, or clear, why those are even there.  But when the people who took it upon themselves to bring these accounts together were making decisions about what would go in, they saw these “housekeeping” items as important.  If nothing else, it showed that keeping track of whatever history and story you have, was worth doing – that the account of a people’s shared story would be missing something, if they didn’t include the more practically-oriented records – as these had been handed down to them.

We do this sort of thing in our community, as do our neighbours of faith, and our sister congregations across the country.  It’s not always the most… glamorous of tasks, or the most visible one, but it is an important ministry – one which our communities could simply not do without.

Our Treasurer, our Finance Committee, our bookkeeper, are all among the most obvious examples of the folks who take part in this kind of ministry, though they aren’t the only ones.  Alongside accounting, we also have accounts, parts of our shared story and the narratives that help shape our community’s sense of heritage, identity, and direction.  Our Archives Team, is one of the more visible examples of that, complementing the work of the authors of our church histories.

And they’re not the only ones, if you’ve served in any of our committees, or in any committee – or any formal organization, for that matter – you will have received minutes, detailing the more noteworthy items from meetings, including decisions and plans for the future.  You may well have been tasked with taking down and distributing those minutes.  And this task – this ministry – as tedious and dry as it may sometimes seem, is vital in keeping our sense of what we have done, what we are doing, and what we want to do, and moreover, getting a sense of who we are and who we want to be.

There are many ways of accounting for this.  In our community’s culture, written records are often what we might most often think about when we talk about financial and historical accounts.  This is what is most prominent in the book of Numbers.  Though it is also common for cultures to have a high regard for oral accounts.  And in fact, the book of Numbers, alongside the accounts in its neighbouring books, are largely considered to be written records of previous oral accounts.

And even if we perceive ourselves to give priority to written records in our community, our oral accounts have more power than we might realize.  The stories we share informally, or the memories that we value most, are not always the ones that are formally recorded somewhere.

In our Unitarian Universalist tradition, our covenants are part of housekeeping, our way of accounting for one another.  And even though our most obvious covenants – such as our principles – are written down, how we implement them, how we live them out, is largely carried out informally in our everyday interactions.  Our covenants are an account of who we want to be with each other, and how we want to be with each other, and they guide us in keeping ourselves accountable to each other, which we do by witnessing to our words and actions, naming these, and – when we fall short – reflecting on how we can live out our covenant more fully.

Sometimes, the notion of accountability can be daunting concept… even scary.  That can be understandable – for some of you, words like accountability or responsibility might come tied up with a sense of… consequences, which is often a way of saying retribution or punishment.  And indeed, that is one way in which accountability is sometimes manifested.  The biblical literature also has many examples of this kind of accountability, as do many other sacred scriptures.

Beyond retribution, the biblical account also records some narratives in which the stories of its people are laid out, including causes for celebration and affirmation, as well as the more unpleasant stories – and the book of Numbers includes some of these accounts as well… part of the reason behind a census, was to quantify how many warriors there were… along with the kind of things that happen in war.  Preserving these kinds of stories is part of accountability.

These texts also have many examples of covenant, where people make promises to each other and give witness to these whenever they invoke these covenants.  The accounts of scripture also keep track of the blessings that they receive, and giving thanks for them – this is another expression of accountability.  Around a time of thanksgiving, we can keep count of the blessings we are graced with, as well as the stories – celebratory and painful – that come with living alongside each other.

I find it especially helpful to think of accountability as a tool for a more wholesome personal and community life.  At its core, accountability can be about that basic aspect of counting – which is to say, keeping track.

Going with the housekeeping image of financial accounting, we might see how a practice of accountability can be a gift.

When making a personal budget for the purposes of creating savings, for instance, many financial advisors will recommend taking an initial inventory of current spending habits.  This can be done simply by going about your daily business as you typically would – making the purchases you’re used to doing, and not immediately worrying about whether you should buy those things or not, or judging yourself for these, simply witnessing to the truth as it is.  At the beginning, the only difference in action is keeping track – be it by keeping the receipts in some organized container, or writing them down… or whichever method works best for you.

Then after a useful period of time – it could be a week for some, but more likely a month, or perhaps a season – you would take stock of what your financial life has been.  This can involve observing – witnessing – those things that we have given our treasure to, as they have been named on your receipts or records.  With this perspective, it is easier to reflect on whether that aligns with our values, or whether those resources could be better used on things, places, and people that enrich us more fully.

In this way, my friends, this kind of accounting can help us transform our lives in a way that better reflects who we want be, and how we want to be.

At least, that’s one way to do it.  Each of you will have found ways in which you can witness to your actions and the actions of those around you, to name them as they come along, reflect on how that enriches ourselves and our relationships, and become more of who we think we are, or would like to be.

My friends, witnessing, naming, reflecting… transforming – that is the opportunity that mindful accountability can bring to a community of faith.  And keeping an account of our stories as they are, and as they have been, with affirmations and unpleasant parts alike, allow us to better know the truth of our communities, that we may seek the changes we wish for ourselves and all our relations.

My friends, may we bear witness to our lives as they are, that we may recognize them for all the work and ministry that they call us to do, that we may intentionally and reflectively be more of who we seek to be.

My friends, may we so hold each other accountably.

So may it be,
In Solidarity, in Love, and in Peace

Copyright © 2021 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Hymn #317 We Are Not Our Own
Words: Brian Wren, 1936- , © 1988 Hope Publishing Co.
Music: David Hurd, 1950- , © 1990 David Hurd