Love Lets Go

October 22, 2023

Rev. Maddie Sifantus and Karen Harris, Worship Host

Altar, Rev. Maddie in Memory of her parents, Harold and Lina MacNeill


“Stand still, stand still, and stop the Sun!”

~ May Sarton

This was the first reading I ever heard in a Unitarian Universalist Church, shared by Rev. Ken Sawyer in 1981 at First Parish in Wayland, MA:

CALL TO WORSHIP              Richard Gilbert

We bid you welcome,

who come with weary spirit seeking rest.

Who come with troubles that are too much with you.

who come hurt and afraid.

We bid you welcome,

who come with hope in your heart.

Who come with anticipation in your step.

Who come proud and joyous.

We bid you welcome,

who are seekers of a new faith.

Who come to probe and explore

Who come to learn.

We bid you welcome,

who enter this hall as a homecoming,

Who have found here room for your spirit,

Who find in this people a family.

Whoever you are, whatever you are,

Wherever you are on your life’s journey,

We bid you welcome.[1]

*HYMN 336  All My Memories of Love

All my memories of love hang upon high stars.
All the souls I’ve lost to tears now the autumn jars;
and the air around me here thickens with their song;
sing again their nameless tunes, sing again, and strong.


Willows in September touch the water clear,
set among the rushes tall of the flowing year.
Rising up from sunlit past comes the shadowed sigh
running toward me silently, love to fortify.


Many are the graceful hearts hung upon this tree.
And it seems there’s room for mine on these branches free;
and the sky above the tree, whether wet or bright,
is my ease and comforting, my good news and light.

Words, Anna Akhmatova, trans. Mark Belletini; music, Plainsong melody

TIME FOR ALL AGES           Knuffle Bunny Free: An Unexpected Diversion

Mo Willems


In song and word 1037    We Begin Again in Love


READING           In Blackwater Woods                        Mary Oliver

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.


SERMON HYMN 1064           Blue Boat Home

Though below me, I feel no motion standing on these mountains and plains.
Far away from the rolling ocean still my dry land heart can say:
I’ve been sailing all my life now, never harbor or port have I known.
The wide universe is the ocean I travel and the earth is my blue boat home.


Sun my sail and moon my rudder as I ply the starry sea,
leaning over the edge in wonder, casting questions into the deep.
Drifting here with my ship’s companions, all we kindred pilgrim souls,
making our way by the lights of the heavens in our beautiful blue boat home.


I give thanks to the waves up holding me, hail the great winds urging me on,
greet the infinite sea before me, sing the sky my sailor’s song:
I was born up on the fathoms, never harbor or port have I known.
The wide universe is the ocean I travel, and the earth is my blue boat home.

         Words, Peter Mayer; Music, Roland Hugh Prichard

SERMON             Love Lets Go                                   Rev. Maddie Sifantus

So, here we are, all of us, us “ kindred pilgrim souls,” sailing on this blue boat home of our hymn. Here we are, you and I, sailing through our lives, young and old, and in-between, navigating the rapids, drifting through the placid pools, looking for the horizon, looking back at where we have been. Here we are, sometimes adrift with no wind in our sails, wondering if we will ever move again. And here we go, shooting ahead on a wicked wind, pushing us hither and yon to we know not where.

Here we are with our ship’s companions, companions of all colors, of all interests, of all theological backgrounds. We have our companions here in this space and our companions in the wider community of Santa Paula, and our still wider community of our nation and the whole blue boat of our earth. Here we are with our companions, casting questions into the deep, into the void, into the tradition. Here, with each other, we attempt to  live those questions into the answers, or some answers, or any answers—as we sail together, walk together, roll together, crawl together, grieve together, rejoice together. As we care for each other and give thanks for the waves upholding us and our sailor songs which can carry us—one day—home. And sometimes they carry us to the times we let go.

I have been going through a period of discernment this last year, knowing that I planned to serve you 8-10 years since I came. I’ve looked at things up and down and sideways. I’ve looked through the lenses of boring books like “Retire on Less Than You Think” and I’ve looked through the lense of poetry like the Mary Oliver poem Karen just read and a younger poet Kate Baer that my daughter-in-law Samantha share with me. She wrote a poem names “Halfway There” which speaks to me and maybe will to you:


Whatever happens,

you are free to go. Free

to peel off what’s left of this story and choose

another. It is not

too late

It is definitely worth the trouble.


Remember the story of the lion

lost without his courage.

Too scared, full of fury,

The great wizard

Standing in the emerald tower,

Knowing the lion was already there.


Almost nine years ago—on January 2, 2015, to be exact—I began my time serving you as your full time, settled minister. There have been a lot of changes for all of us since that day. There have been joys and sorrows and milestones shared as we have walked together on the path of our faith. There have been a few weddings here and out in the community; I think most especially of the wedding I officiated with my colleague Jenny Crosswhite for Jose Melgar and Gilbert Moreno held in this space last March. Joy went up to the rafters and the skylight where the congregation read our central text, “Beloved let us love one another.”

I think of 33 concerts, most recently the sold out concert by Familia Moraza which was a benefit for our friends De Colores Multicultural Arts. There have been Memorial Services and Celebrations of Life for beloveds who have left us. There have been flower communions and water communions, Twilight Gatherings and Easters. There have been Winter Solstices and Christmas Eves, and Common Reads and Cruise Nights. There has been meditation, yoga and Singing Meditation. There are been new members like Mitch Stone who is now the board, and old, beloved members such as Donna Hamer who moved away last year. There was my wonderful Installation with a combined choir and a full house with 14 of my friends and colleagues flying out from the East Coast. Many of you were there. There has been justice work, collaborations with community partners, and so much more. Many wonderful things,

There is a process ministers go through in our denomination which we call “settlement.” When I came to my last congregation in Wakefield, Masschusetts I had just left my twenty year community ministry with the chorus I founded, the Golden Tones. I was at that point poised to go into search for a full time congregation…but life had other plans. I was still recovering from a nearly fatal car accident and it turned out that doing a short part-time parish consulting ministry was better for me. Wakefield was between ministers and struggling with being lay led and their president asked me if I could help out. Sure, I said to her and to myself—I can go into search next year. So it was that I came there for six months and stayed for six years…and then heard about another historically Universalist congregation in California, in a place I had never heard of and where I knew no one but which was an hour from where my family lived. And I came here on a July day in 2014 and began the process of falling in love with this place and these people.

As Carl Rogers said in his book, On Becoming a Person, “Life, at its best, is a flowing, changing process in which nothing is fixed. I find that when life is richest and most rewarding, it is a flowing process.” No matter how much we try to “fix” it, to keep our boundaries firm, to keep our family safe, and everything orderly—we are actually in the flow. The trick is to have all hands on deck, working together to navigate the maelstrom, caring for each other and outcomes. But even when that is the case, it is sometimes time for one at the helm to move on. It is such a time for me. It is my time to be “Free to peel off what’s left of this story and choose another.”

May Sarton, a particular favorite writer of mine once wrote:


Now I become myself. It’s taken
Time, many years and places,
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people’s faces,
Run madly, as if Time were there,
Terribly old, crying a warning,
“hurry, you will be dead before —–”
(What? Before you reach the morning?
or the end of the poem, is clear?
Or love safe in the walled city?)
Now to stand still, to be here,
Feel my own weight and density!…..
Now there is time and Time is young.
O, in this single hour I live
All of myself and do not move
I, the pursued, who madly ran,
Stand still, stand still, and stop the Sun!


Well, we know that none of us can stop the sun. Now there is time but time does not stay forever young nor do any of us, including your minister. In Spring of 2014 I became aware that two California congregations were looking for settled ministers so I clicked on them in April, just to see. I went into the whole adventure with no expectations but full of discernment and openness. I went out to Hollywood for my birthday at the end of April and did a phone interview with Santa Paula while I was there. I enjoyed talking to the search committee but didn’t take a ride up to see the place. They were interviewing other people, and I was only visiting for three days. When I didn’t hear anything, I thought, oh well, and went about the rest of the church year in Wakefield, by then having added another half-time congregation in Milford, Massachusetts.

Then all of a sudden I got a call right before I was to leave for our General Assembly in Providence…on my house phone. No one calls my housephone but fundraisers and people trying to sell me something. I heard a voice saying that it was MaryBeth from the Santa Paula search committee. I had totally stopped thinking about them so had a pause to figure out who it was I was talking to, so I missed what she first said, but I figured out they were still looking at me. She said that my “name kept coming up.” Off the cuff I said, “You mean like a bad penny?!” Hardly the response for a potential new ministry or job interview! She asked me if I was still interested in their congregation and I heard myself saying YES.

From that point on, things sped into top gear. At General Assembly I was talking on my cell phone to the District Executive from the Pacific Southwest District, Ken Brown, while sitting outside the Convention Center. I had a pre-planned trip to visit Nigel and family the second half of July but ended spending one weekend pre-candidating for Santa Paula—spending the weekend here in town, meeting the search committee and then preaching in a neutral pulpit at First Unitarian Los Angeles. I could tell you a lot more about all of it, like how many signs there were that this was a place I could call home, but the short story was that by the end of that week, when I was up my colleague Mary Louise Schmalz up in Marin County, they called and asked me to be their candidate.

So it was that I needed to go back for Candidating Week as soon as possible. Part of Candidating week is two Sunday services with meetings before the first one, meetings all week between them and then the congregational meeting to vote to call after the second one. The first Sunday, Labor Day weekend,  my son, Nigel, and family came to the service. It was the first time they had ever seen me lead a service. How wonderful for me to have them there! How wonderful to have them here today. And as some of you may remember, the vote was 110% to call me. And I felt like this place would be my home. That is saying a lot since I lived in my house in Wayland for 39 years.

So it is exciting and more than a little sad for me. I have loved being here for nine years. I have loved and do love all of you. But there comes a time when love lets go. And when it lets go there is feelings of loss, mine and yours. We have used these words by Greta Crosby on our Wayside Pulpit in the past, “Loss makes artists of us all as we weave new patterns to the fabric of our lives.” We will be weaving new patterns here for the next nine months, you and I. We will be planning for moving forward with the help of the Pacific Western Region of the UUA. Evidence of that is their representative, the Melissa James is with us on Zoom this morning. It remains to be seen how you will move forward after June, but know I will help in any way I can to make the transition as smooth as possible. Change can be good. We can be artists, painting new paintings, weaving new fabric, sculpting new constellations.

So what happens now? Now we have the gift of time to say goodbye to one another. Life here will go on, today with a Talking Circle after coffee hour,  a Vocal Workshop with me at noon on Tuesday for those who want to learn more about singing and reading music, Meditation with me on Wednesday, and the Mary As and a choir rehearsal on Thursday. We will have our Samhain/Day of the Dead service right here next Sunday when we will add the photos of those we have lost on the offrenda that Constancia and I will prepare. And then we will rededicate the Memorial Rose Garden with two new roses dedicated to our beloved member Jan Shepherd and to Logan’s parents. There will be Blue Christmas and Christmas Eve, and a new book discussion group sponsored by the Caring Committee. The Winter Solstice will take place with its battle between the light and dark. Life goes on. Love goes on.

Life will go on with different ways for me to visit with each of you. I will tell you how much of a privilege and a joy it has been to be with you. I will tell you how we made real progress here, becoming an outward looking congregation that is well known in the community. I will tell you how you have the strength and skills as a congregation to move forward, to keep your outward looking vision I was called under. I will tell you that there are excellent trained interim ministers who may spend 1-3 years with you as you discern who you want to me in your next iteration. And there are other models of ministry as well.

And one day next June we will say our last goodbye to each other in this Sanctuary. My prayer that day will be that you will go on caring for each other and caring for our world, bringing the message of liberal religion beyond these walls in this beautiful valley that I love and off to the worlds beyond, by means of our online ministry. Yes, I will be sad, but I will go knowing you are strong, happier and healthier for our by then almost 10 years together, and that I will be able to have have a more sustainable life as I get ready to have been on the planet for three quarters of a century as my Dad would surely tell me, he who lived to be one hundred.

I have loved you—and I do still—I have held you against my bones, and now it is time for that love to begin to let go and go on to whatever’s next. I end with these words I used for my Chalice Lighting at the Board meeting on Thursday which speak to me of the chalice of my being at this time of my life. It is named A True Story and is by Li Kynvi:

This chalice is for the living,
the changing,
the becoming.
This chalice is for losing the script of your life,
the chapters about who you are
in other people’s stories.
This chalice is for the lost GPS
that was supposed to show you how to get
where they expected you to go.
This chalice is for skipping the directions,
coloring outside the lines,
painting—not by number—but by silence,
by wild abandon,
with a brush you made yourself
from light deep inside.
A new voice
that already knows you.
Finally, a true story.


My wish for you, beloveds is that you find your new voice that already knows you, both as individuals and as a congregation. May it be so. Blessed be. Amen.

CLOSING HYMN 1008           When Our Heart is in a Holy Place

Words and music, Joyce Poley

BENEDICTION                     Mary Oliver

To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.


And finally in words by Leonard Cohen:

We are so lightly here.

It is in love that we are made.

In love we disappear.



[1] SLT 442.