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

May 2022 Newsletter

April 30th, 2022 . by William Baylis

Click here and enjoy!

From the Ground Up

April 24th, 2022 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Opening Hymn #203 All Creatures of the Earth and Sky
Words: Attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, 1182-1226, alt.
Music: From Ausserlesene Catholische Kirchengesang, 1623, adapt. and harm. by Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1872-1958, music used by perm. of Oxford University Press

Mike Menefee (1 October, 2020)

Time for All AgesWhere do Trees Get Their Mass?Veritasium (Dr. Derek Muller)

12 March 2012

And if you want to explore the cultivation of smaller organisms, this reflection on sourdough starters and yeast, by Adam Ragusea will walk you through it.

Sermon – From the Ground Up – Rev. Rod


Read: [Printable PDF document available for download]

When I commented on a reading from the book of Genesis a couple weeks ago, I pointed out that the name for the first human in that creation story, Adam, is related to the Hebrew word for earth adamah – a scriptural pun revealing the notion that humans are literally earthlings.  In this way, that particular creation story echoes what many other creation stories also proclaim – that we come from the earth, and in many ways, symbolic and literal, that we are of the earth and that we are the earth.

During our Easter celebration last week, we explored the notion that “no news does not equal no news” as significant news can often be hidden underground, even as the significance of the news may still resonate and affect us in important ways, sometimes in beneficial ways that may be unbeknownst to us most of the time… unless we specifically seek out that significance.

And some of this kind of news is in fact literally underground, as we saw a couple weeks ago, when we considered that it may be helpful to think of the very soil that we stand on as a living being, even if it doesn’t always look that way.  Being that the soil is composed of living and dead matter, and as it absorbs and exchanges gases from our shared atmosphere – “breathing” in its own kind of way – it checks out many of the boxes of what we might consider a living organism.  And above all, it sustains us and the creatures around us.

We also know that soil is especially important to many plants, including trees, although there is another element that is sometimes overlooked when we consider the life cycle of trees – air (and here, I’m using element in the classical figurative sense, rather than in the chemical sense).

Canadian-Australian science communicator, Dr. Derek Mueller (who did his doctorate on the matter of science education on video platforms such as YouTube) invites his viewers to consider what a tree is made of. He suggests questions, such as:  If a tree is made of soil, then why isn’t there a big gap on the ground around the tree as it grows?

Many of the people he asks on the street have some understanding that the soil is involved, as well as water and the original seed.  There’s also a sense that the sun… does something.

Some of you might also guess that a good portion of the tree’s nutrients – it’s food, so to speak – comes from the air, particularly the carbon dioxide, which the tree… breathes (or, in a sense, “eats”) and with the energy from the sun, the tree converts it into wood as it exhales oxygen.

It turns out, in fact, that by some accounts, up to 95% percent of the tree’s mass comes from this carbon dioxide – it’s mostly made up of air!  To be sure, the earth, water, and sun, all play an integral part, it’s just that, in terms of bulk, the air is what makes most of the tree.

One of the sources of this carbon dioxide is… us!  Us, in a very literal, embodied, way, as we breathe it out.  It is a virtual statistical certainty that there are trees out there which are made, at least in part, from our breath – from the spiritual cycle of our inhaling and exhaling.  It is also a biological and geological certainty that, as we speak, we are infusing ourselves with the gifted oxygen from trees and plants around us (past and present).

This isn’t new news… we grew up learning about it.  And it is such a basic truth, that we don’t see headlines about it on news outlets all that often.  But no news does not equal no news, and sometimes it is worth remembering basic truths about the essentials of life.  To honour and celebrate the inevitable connection we have with our surrounding environment, which calls us to nurture an evermore respectful relationship with this interconnected web.

The beauty of our collective breath is shared in some way with every living being, including the soil.  And it is shared by those creatures who look a lot like us, like mammals and primates, as well as those that at first glance look very different from us, like yeast and other microorganisms.  These too share in that collective respiration, sometimes giving, and sometimes taking, oxygen and carbon dioxide, spiritually connecting us to our shared global breath.

Over the past couple of years, it became fashionable for many folks to take on the practice of cultivating their own sourdough starters.  Part of this was a practical necessity when commercial yeast became in short supply, and part of it was an option for balance when some among us had more time at home than planned.  Others among you have been taking part of this practice for several years now, and may have seen little novelty in it.  And maybe you’ve never been into it at all, or have needed to pay attention to other pressing matters.  I only came about it recently.

However it is that you relate to this kind of activity, it is one exercise in the practice of connecting with the earth and all life on it.  To experience the sacred in the ordinary.

The yeast in my sourdough starter brings out that carbon dioxide, as it eats the food from plants like wheat, in turn giving that outbreath to other plants.  In this way, this yeast is very much like us, and parts of us are very much like it, as our own bodies are made up of many other microorganisms that digest our food for us in our gut, to give us the energy we need – as we host them, in turn.

We’re so similar in some ways, that the reason whole wheat flour is good for sourdough starters is the same reason whole wheat flour is usually better for us. The more complex carbs in whole wheat give a better-quality source of sustenance to the yeast’s life – a more balanced diet with fibre and minerals, that allow it to pace itself as it develops.

When I look at my jar of sourdough starter, I see a bit of myself in it, reflected back.  And in that reflection, I am invited to reflect about the bit of myself that I share with all of us, and with everything else.

Each of you will have your own way of finding your reflection among creation.  Be it simply going outside once in a while and taking in a fresher whiff of our collective global breath, or maybe getting more hands-on and interacting with some of the other vessels for participating in this shared breath, such as gardening, or growing food, which some of you do as a way of life..

My friends, every once in a while, it’s worth remembering that the relationship between us and the earth is more than a casual acquaintance.  We are, in fact, intrinsically connected to this earth and everything it holds, coming from the earth and what it grows, feeding off of each other, and becoming part of the earth, in both life and in death.

Moreover, my friends, we reflect the earth, as we ourselves mirror many of the systems and rhythms that are also used by the other parts of the planet, and what’s on it, as the ground, the air, the water, and the energy from the fires of the sun, all collaborate in us, the animals, the trees, and all the small creatures, around us and inside us.

My friends, as we continue to celebrate the earth, may we also remember we are celebrating us, and all we hold dear.

So may it be,
In contemplation and celebration

Copyright © 2022 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 –

JD Stillwater (Sung by Peter Mayer) (7 January, 2017)

No News =/= No News

April 17th, 2022 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Opening Hymn #266 Now the Green Blade Riseth
Words: John MacLeod Campbell Crum, 1872-1958, atl.,
© 1964 Oxford University Press
Music: Medieval French carol, harmony by Marcel Dupré, 1886-1971,
© Alphonse Leduc, Paris

Steph and Les Tacy (30 March, 2021)

Time for All Ages

Are you stuck in the sad gap? – Hank Green from vlogbrothers (15 April, 2022)

And for a deeper look into some of the emerging good news, you can also take a look at this video:

We WILL Fix Climate Change – Kurzgesagt (5 April, 2022)

Sermon – No News ? No News – Rev. Rod


Read: [Printable PDF available for download]

The earliest versions of the book of Mark end in a cliff-hanger.  As a group of friends of Jesus go to visit his tomb, they find that the boulder has been rolled away, and a mysterious man confirms that Jesus is not there and hints that he has been lifted from that place.  With little more concrete information than the fact that the tomb is empty, the friends leave with a sense of terror, mystery, and silence.  And the book ends with the ominous words “…for they were afraid.” (Mark 16:8)

Later versions of Mark had a couple of endings that have some rather amazing news, but for a while, both the characters in the story and the readers of Mark, were left in suspense.

Now, just because we don’t hear news, or we aren’t told this news, doesn’t mean that there aren’t newsworthy events in the works.

For instance, on April 18, 1930, the newly-established British Broadcasting Corporation (the BBC), had a rather short report, which I’ll read out here in its entirety: “Good evening.  Today is Good Friday.  There is no news.”  This was followed by piano music. 

Now, in the time and the place in which we live, that kind of announcement might prompt a wistful longing for what might sound like a simpler time.  We might even wonder if our current news outlets could ever dare giving such calming reports, and offer us a welcome break from the current flood of usually worrisome news.

But, of course, although there was no news reported by the BBC that particular day, we know that events happened on that day.  Things occurred that are in the historical record, and they were reported in other places, especially in those places that were most affected by those events.

In fact, rather significant and noteworthy events happened on April 18, 1930 – at least, the kind of things that we might well hear reported on the news today (and yes, much of this was what we would call bad news).  Typhoon Leyte swept through the Philippines, causing widespread damage, much in the way that we recognized this week the news from tropical storm Megi (in the Philippines, no less).  Another tragic event was the death of several parishioners, many of them children, at a Romanian church in Coste?ti, when candles for the Good Friday service ignited some of the drapery.

And… there was also a large rebellion in the Bengal province of British India, where British Imperial troops were called in to quell this uprising by colonized peoples, who disagreed with the colonial powers.  Somehow, that particular event didn’t make it into the BBC’s Good Friday report.

Even when we do keep meticulous track of the news, there are some days in which the news may still occasionally seem… lighter than others, especially when compared to our times.

Of course, the noteworthiness of events has a certain inherent subjectivity to it, but it is possible to have a methodical approach to gauge which days were more noteworthy than others.

The True Knowledge events database did just that.  It is now known as Evi and it is part of what powers the electronic assistant Alexa.  And according to a computer scientist who worked in the development of this database, the day that is considered to have the least noteworthy events of the 20th century – in other words, its most boring day – is April 11, 1954 (apparently April is that kind of a month).

In terms of the number of news events, and their relative significance, April 11, 1954 had fairly few.  Among the highlights of the day were a number of sporting competitions, and a fairly low-key election in Belgium.  The most notable birth was possibly Ian Akyildiz, a Turkish electrical engineer who has written a few textbooks and has done some work on cellular technology (though you’ve probably never heard of him).

So, what are we to make of days like April 18, 1930, when the BBC reported that there was no news?  Or days like April 11, 1954, which some database engineers consider to be the most boring day of the 20th century?

Well, the first thing that jumps out at me, is that the lack of news on the BBC does not equal a lack of news, and certainly not a lack of events.  The typhoon that swept the Philippines on April 18 of 1930, would have been quite significant to the people that were directly affected by it.  The fire at a church in Coste?ti, Romania, that same day, meant that Good Friday would forever mean something different to the families of that parish and the citizens of that town.  The rebellion in Bengal province that happened on that day was not insignificant to the colonized peoples of India, and in the wider context of the history of India, it was likely to have been a contributor to its eventual independence.

These may not have been considered newsworthy events to all people in every part of the world, but they were real things that happened to real people, with real meanings attached to them, and which, in their own way had real consequences… some may well have eventually had world-changing consequences, even if they were overlooked – or maybe even intentionally ignored – by the news curators of a certain time and a certain place.

And even the seemingly-boring news items of April 11, 1954 would have had significance for the people involved in them… and to people who came after them, even if that significance might have been hidden.  The different sporting events that were held that day would have been important to all sorts of sports fans – and I know some among you are that sort of people, who are unlikely to settle for a description of a sporting event as “boring”.  That’s without even mentioning the athletes involved, for whom these might have been career-changing or even life-changing events, and who in turn may have gone to influence several generations to pay closer attention to physical activity, be it competitively, for fun, or for health.

The 1954 Belgian elections, and the modest legislative output that followed, may have been relatively unremarkable, but political decisions are never insignificant, and this election likely had enduring effects, even if many may have remained invisible for many years.

Even the innocuous birth of Ian Akyildiz, the electrical engineer who you’ve probably never heard of, likely had an effect on the people who he helped educate on his subject, or who built upon his inventions and technological developments.

No news does not equal no news.

There is always news, even if it is sometimes hidden underground, under a stone, [take out Easter egg] like an Easter egg waiting to be found and appreciated.

These days, we have no shortage of news, and yet amid the torrent of quite significant – if worrisome – news, there is a whole set of noteworthy events happening that might still escape our attention, perhaps because their significance is not always immediately apparent, keeping us in suspense.  And still, my friends, many of these are even good news.

Increasingly, we are now at a time when economic growth may well be decoupled from the need to emit greenhouse gasses – that is to say, it is no longer a given that reducing greenhouse emissions automatically means economic losses; sometimes, the opposite is now true, as green energy is increasingly making more business sense than dirtier energy.  This did not happen overnight.  Much of this came from long strings of days when nothing seemed to be happening, when it seemed there was no news on that front.  To be sure, there are many daunting challenges ahead, but while fighting a climate crisis remains difficult it is not impossible.

Our responses to Covid threats continue to run into frustrating setbacks, yet even into the latest wave, we continue to see lower proportions of severe illness among our populations.  A lot of it is due to international cooperation, and medical breakthroughs, many of which lay low in the public’s attention until we saw their benefits months or years after they came about – you’ve heard me speak at length about these before.  And that’s not even mentioning the work of professionals around the world who continue to do life-saving and life-changing work, even though their feats are not routinely reported as headline news.

The list is long, my friends – and the problems on it are real – and there is an even longer list of people working on good news, even when we don’t hear them.

My friends, we cannot ignore the serious facts and events that come along with the boulder of news we encounter everyday – and we will also do well to remember the knowledge that beneath that boulder, sometimes underground, lies a whole set of good news that make part of our interrelated web.  News that we are part of and may unexpectedly uncover.  News that we can invest our faith in.

My friends, let us engage in this good news.

So may it be,
In hope and faith

Copyright © 2022 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Closing Hymn #61 Lo, the Earth Awakes Again
~)-| Words: Samuel Longfellow, 1819-1892, arr.
Music: Lyra Davidica, 1708, version of John Arnold’s Compleat Psalmodist, 1749
Tune EASTER HYMN with Alleluias

UU Society of Grafton and Upton (Grafton MA) (12 April, 2020)

UU Lay Chaplain Services

April 14th, 2022 . by William Baylis

I am a lay chaplain!

In my experience, there is often some confusion around this statement, so this brief explanation may offer some clarity.
Unitarian Universalist congregations in Canada have the unique opportunity to use licensed lay chaplains to perform rites of passage and personalized ceremonies marking milestone life celebrations. Included are weddings, memorials, funerals, child naming ceremonies, house blessings, beginnings and endings in all kinds of evolving life experiences.
The primary reason for the creation of lay chaplains came in a 1970 agreement. Firmly believing that all persons have a “right to their rite”, the Canadian Unitarian Council member congregations/fellowships created lay chaplains to assist extremely busy Unitarian Universalist ministers, thereby ensuring these services were available to the wider community.

The Canadian Unitarian Council of Lay Chaplains helps clients searching for meaningful rites of passage in a relaxed environment, honouring their personal wishes and spiritual beliefs.
It is equally important that attention is paid to attendees of any ceremony, ensuring their comfort while reflecting the values and principles of Unitarians and Universalists.

Working closely with each client, lay chaplains can offer guidance through difficult and sensitive situations where differing beliefs, traditions and religious loyalties may need to be discussed in an accommodating and safe space.

If you have any inquiries or merely wish to chat about lay chaplain services, you are invited to contact:

Sue Markham,
Lay Chaplain for the Unitarian Universalist Church of Olinda @ 226-350-2879.
Email: worthysole4u@hotmail.com


April 10th, 2022 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Time for All Ages Is Soil Alive? – MinuteEarth (27 January, 2022) (3:24)

Want to go deeper?
You can also try delving into this longer discussion:

What is Life? (feat. Prof. Brian Cox) – Be Smart (a PBS channel) (8 April, 2022) (24:30)

Sermon – Grounded – Rev. Rod


Read: [Printable PDF document available for download]

The question of life has been around for a long time.  It may well be where religion comes from.  And that goes for the questions of life, and the questions that come with life and all that we ask about life.

Defining life has also been a tricky quest.

There are traditions that see breath as the mark of life, and the difference between the quick and the dead, therefore, is marked by the ability to breathe.

It is perhaps quite appropriate, then, that when scientists study life, one of the ways to consider whether something is alive is respiration – the exchange of gases with its surroundings, such as air and water, interacting with these surroundings, giving and receiving energy.

Indeed, like respiration, the very words for inspiration and spirit are all related to breath, as reflected in one of the creation stories in which God is described as blowing divine breath into the first earthlings – the humans made from the ground.  The Hebrew word that is used in Genesis is ruach, and it can be translated as breath, wind, or spirit.  (There is also a pun between the name of Adam and the word for earth adaMAH)

And so it is that we can consider the earth itself to show signs that are consistent with life.  The ground exchanges gases, including ones containing oxygen and carbon – the very same ones that we exchange!  Soil is composed of similar systems as us, as well as those of pretty much other living organisms.  It can be helpful to consider the earth as a kind of meta-organism of its own.

Earth-based spiritual traditions have carried versions of this wisdom for centuries.  And considering the soil, and even the very planet that it sits on, as a living being, is increasingly in vogue in scientific mindsets as well.

Categorization is a useful tool in both theology and science, as it helps in understanding how those things that are most similar to each other work, and it allows comparison to other things depending on their degree of variability, such as different species (“according to their kinds”).  And… categorization can also be misleading, in that it can artificially separate certain concepts and organisms from their relationship with the larger web of existence.  It is in the edges of these categories that things often get interesting.

Biology is sometimes called the science of exceptions.  And while the way we most often use the label of life can be helpful in understanding certain processes, it is also on the edges of what we call life that we can sometimes see more similarities than expected… where we can see a deeper relationship.

Whether the things that are beyond us, or animals, or plants, or microorganisms, fit into a textbook description of life is an interesting question in itself.  But another interesting thing is that even if – even when – different things don’t fit in all the categories we have assigned for what constitutes living, it is still worthwhile (it is still helpful) to consider the wider systems of the universe as living.

The earth, the oceans, the lakes, the atmosphere, even the social systems among different organisms – each of these can make more sense when we are open to seeing the hidden life in each of them.

And, as inquisitive minds (be it as spiritual seekers, theologians, or scientists), we are invited to explore that hidden life.

The Lenten season is coming to a close, with the impending arrival of Easter, along with its collective pageant of intentionally doing without, doing with less, or paying closer attention to what is essential.  And is it does, we seek to hearken back to finding more life where we might not have seen it before.  To resurrect our commitment to connect with the living spirit and celebrate it.  To invite revelation, especially in unexpected places.

Astrophysicist Carl Sagan observed that all that we consider life today (as well as the things that we don’t) all come from the seed of hydrogen atoms interacting with each other over long times and wide spaces.  Hydrogen atoms, that became heavier elements in the furnaces of stars, throughout their life cycle, who themselves gave birth to other elements, often at their death in supernovae explosions.  All of these eventually interacting with each other to make the ground – and from that ground… us! (and everything around us).  And those hydrogen atoms themselves derive from the primordial source of matter, which is the energy that came from the beginning of the Big Bang.

Now Sagan was often seen as an exemplar agnostic or perhaps atheist, and yet it is difficult to read or hear his many works that contemplate the cosmos without hearing a pronounced mystical voice.  The approach taken by him and many science communicators like him, is that the eternal inquiry about the universe is inevitably conducive to an immense feeling of wonder and awe.

Whether your approach takes the more formal/methodical processes of science or the wider/intuitive approach of an earth-centred tradition, or the oral narrative tradition of a biblical story, the mystical truth that is shared along all these currents is that life is indeed connected, mysterious, and sacred in its shared origins and in its enduring links.

We pursue these questions with different approaches and drawing from many sources.  Whether you find these in biblical texts or other sacred scriptures, in earth-based observances and practices, in YouTube videos that offer appealing visual narratives, in the many forms of meditation and contemplation, or in the act of engaging with the world, these are all spiritual works that invite us to connect with the truths beyond ourselves and to take action for sustaining what sustains us.

It is perhaps an open question whether scientific pursuits might ever “solve” the mysteries of the universe – but they don’t have to.  Because in these pursuits, we continue to find new meanings to what life can do and what life can be.  In this exploration, we continue to find new evidence of what life can look like, and how we are connected to all forms of life around us (and everything in between).

My friends, the knowledge and wisdom, or truths, or stories, or questions, that I’m sharing with you today aren’t all that novel or ground-breaking.  You’ve heard me say versions of that before, and you’ve heard others say versions of that before me.  You have quite likely expressed some aspect of these, or thought something along those lines.  What I am here to do on days like these, is to reprise the invitation to consider all of these again.  To remind us that these questions, observations, meditations, all matter.  They warrant our renewed attention from time to time.  And they invoke deeper exploration as we delve into the everyday living of our lives.

Why?  Because it is easy to forget this interconnected web, and it is easy to overlook it, especially when other difficult stories in the world, and in our lives, draw us away from appreciating it.

My friends, our task as spiritual beings, and as a spiritual community, involves constantly re-committing to enhancing our awareness of these mysteries, and to reconnect to the invitation for us to engage in awe and wonder.  To ground ourselves in the truths that come from remembering the earth that we come from, and the roots it shares with the rest of the universe.

And every once in a while, my friends, pursuing a review of these views, will offer fresh insight.  It will invite a new sense of awe for the amazing power of creation.

So may it be,
In awe and wonder

Copyright © 2022 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Closing Hymn #207 Earth Was Given as a Garden
~)-| Words: Roberta Bard, 1940- , © 1992 Roberta Bard Ruby
Music: Rowland Hugh Prichard, 1811-1887

Unitarian Universalists of San Luis Obispo (29 October, 2021)

Errand Hang

April 3rd, 2022 . by Rod Solano-Quesnel

Hymn #360 Here We Have Gathered
~)-| Words: Alicia S. Carpenter, 1930- , © 1979 Alicia S. Carpenter
Music: Genevan psalter, 1543
Tune OLD 124th

Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara (20 March, 2021)

Meditation – I Don’t Have a Good Title for This Video – Hank Green in vlogbrothers

(1 April, 2022)

Reading – The Errand Friend Hang – Annika Hansteen-Izora

8 June, 2021

In this blogpost, writer Annika Hansteen-Izora considers the meaning and significance of the Errand Hang, the act of having company while tending to everyday tasks.

Read their full reflection on their website:


Sermon – Errand Hang – Rev. Rod


Read: [Printable PDF document available for download]

Last month, I showcased the relatively-recent expression FOMO, which stands for the Fear of Missing Out, and speaks to that sense of anxiety that might come about when perceiving that others are doing things, or getting stuff, that we are not – a feeling that has been sharpened by increased exposure to social media, as well as by the obligatory isolation that came with the pandemic.

I also brought along its counterpart, the Joy of Missing Out, indicating the liberating opportunity that comes from letting go of the perceived compulsion to live up to others’ standards, or by willingly doing without those things or activities that are not always essential, something that we’re especially invited to practice during times of spiritual reflection, such as Lent, or Ramadan.

Over the past year, another expression has been making the rounds of the internet – the errand hang.  This came to wide attention after the writer Annika Hansteen-Izora published a blog post in which they outlined what might be involved in an errand hang: seeking company from a friend while attending to everyday tasks.

Now Annika Hansteen-Izora didn’t invent errand hangs – people have been doing this kind of thing for a long time, perhaps as long as there’ve been people, though their prevalence may depend on each individual culture’s norms.  I’m not even sure if Annika coined the phrase “errand hang”, but they certainly popularized it over the past year.

Since then, other popular bloggers have taken to exploring how errand hangs can have significant impacts in people’s lives.  The parenting blog Scary Mommy, suggests that errand hangs can be lifelines for parents who need to get stuff done, but could use the support of friendly company while doing so.

Not only can the company of a friend enhance the focus of the errand, as each companion can offer advice on important purchases, like diapers or bed frames, but this intentional company can also help each other stay accountable to their responsibilities, by making the mundane task special – perhaps even sacred.  This is because, among other things, setting up an errand hang can make certain obligations fun.  And the power of fun cannot be overlooked.  By making a potentially tedious task more appealing, an errand hang encourages its sustained practice.

The opportunity for additional connection can also offer space for healing.  The grief support website Whats Your Grief observes that errand hangs can be an opportunity to reclaim activities one might have done with a now-deceased loved one, and which may be difficult or painful to do alone, but may be more fulfilling and even newly-enjoyable when carried out with a friend who’s supportive by simply being there.

There’s a related – if perhaps distinct – sentiment in the Academy Award-winning movie Good Will Hunting, starring (among others) Matt Damon, Minnie Driver, and Robin Williams.  The title character Will Hunting (played by Damon) gets asked out on a date by Skylar (played by Driver), a Harvard student at a bar.  As Skylar gives her phone number to Will, she suggests that they could get together for coffee sometime.  Being clever, Will counteroffers that they could also get together and eat a bunch of caramels.  Responding to Skylar’s puzzlement, Will elaborates: “When you think about it, it’s as arbitrary as drinking coffee.”

Despite the smart-alecky nature of Will’s remark, I also think he’s exposing the somewhat necessary fiction that’s often needed for people to get together when they want to see if they like each other enough to pursue a romantic relationship.  Rather than simply say, “let’s see if we like each other”, you set up an event that’s some steps removed from romance or sex: an arbitrary activity – coffee, bowling, apple-picking… eating caramels.  How this turns out will depend on the compatibility that the people involved have with each other, and how their interaction in their chosen situation plays out.  This may or may not result in a developing relationship, which could span from a next date to lifelong commitment, or anything in between.  Whatever the outcome, they at least get to participate on the activity they set out do.

Of course, dates of sorts can also apply for platonic relationships.  Folks will often set dates with friends, just to hang around.  Here at Olinda, we sometimes have dinner dates that span from two to eight people.  It’s a structured way to ensure we get together.

Now, in examining the errand hang, Annika Hansteen-Izora is describing something slightly different than a dinner with friends or with a potential mate.  If you want to get really… academic… about the difference between a pure errand hang and something like the casual date that is anchored over an arbitrary setting like coffee or caramels, then perhaps the distinguishing factor might be that a date setting tends to involve picking an activity that’s slightly out of your way (as a way to find a foundation for folks to pursue a potential romantic interest).  In contrast, an errand hang, as defined by Hansteen-Izora, involves activities that you might already be obligated to do as part of the course of responsible living (or “adulting”, as people closer to my generation might often say).

My own analysis is that both of these settings fall under the larger category of finding excuses to get together.  And I’ve talked about these quite a bit.

I’d argue that church is something akin to an errand hang.  For those of us who view spiritual growth as an essential part of living, then intentionally making for opportunities when we can get together (in whichever way is feasible) is a way to enhance our spiritual practice by inviting greater focus, accountability, and fun to the task of spiritual development.  As much as we value spiritual living, some of the tasks involved can sometimes feel tedious, overwhelming, or uncertain.  Asking friends to carry these out with us is a way to build the discipline we may need, to share the load, and to find guidance along the way.

We do this in many ways.  The most common one might be setting a regular time to get together in some way – a “faith date” – for us that’s usually Sunday.  Some among us might take on additional tasks in the running of the church – errands – for which we deliberately hang around together, in groups like boards, committees, task forces, or study groups.  In these we can find structure with disciplined norms, have focused discussion, build accountable practices, and build community.

Every once in a while, we also make special events, which may seem arbitrary in the grander scheme of things, but which are perfectly viable excuses to get together, such as community meals (when it’s feasible), cooking classes, or other kinds of gatherings.

This coming week, we’ll be participating in our traditional aUUction, in which we tackle what might be the otherwise tedious task of raising money for our community, by making an event out of it, encouraging interaction among our members and participants, adding a bit of friendly rivalry with some bidding, and looking to have fun in putting our contributions together and offering them to each other.

My friends, there are other ways we could get the stuff we might get at the aUUction, and you could take your own initiative in setting up events and get-togethers like the ones that are offered at the aUUction, but marking a time to do that collectively ensures that those options are intentionally offered, rather than simply thought about or considered.  It also makes the task of something we have to do as responsible stewards of our church – raising money – into a fun activity we can look forward to… which can in turn create other fun options to look forward to.

Above all, my friends, it’s an opportunity for community building.  It’s not the only one, but it’s the one that starts as of tomorrow.

My friends, this week, and in the coming months, let us continue to build community together.

So may it be,
In gratitude and conviviality

Copyright © 2022 Rodrigo Emilio Solano-Quesnel

Closing Hymn #76 For Flowers That Bloom about Our Feet
~)-| Words: Minot Judson Savage, 1841-1918
Music: Cyril V. Taylor, b. 1907, © Hope Publishing Co.

Jess Huetteman (27 May, 2020)