Once upon a time there was a young girl named Maggie, who found out she had a very terrible
disease and probably would never be well again.
She was very, very sad, and although she had many friends, all of them were afraid to visit her
because they feared they might catch the disease.
So the little girl sat in her bed all by herself and was very lonely.
One day she heard a knock on her door. “Come in,” she said and in walked three of her friends.
One was a doctor, one was a minister, and one was a magician. Maggie was very glad to see
them for no one else had been brave enough to visit her.
“Hello, Maggie,” said her friends as they sat down around her bed. “We came to tell you
something. Each one of us is going to try to find a cure for your disease.”
“Yes,” said the doctor, “I’m going to go into my laboratory and do experiments until I discover a
medicine that will cure your disease.”
“And I,” said the minister, “am going to pray every day that you will be healed of this terrible
“And I,” said the magician, “am going to look through my books of magic until I discover a
potion or spell that will rid you of your disease.”
Maggie smiled and was happy because she saw how much her friends cared for her.
“Thanks,” she said.
“We’re sorry that we can’t stay long to visit,” said her friends, “but we must rush off and begin
our search for a cure. We’ll return in three days and surely by then one of us will have found a
way to cure your disease.”
And so her friends went away in search of a cure, and once again Maggie was very lonely.
For three days Maggie’s friends did everything they could to find a cure for the disease. The
doctor worked hard in the laboratory but couldn’t discover any medicine that could help the little
girl. The minister prayed every day and every night that Maggie would be healed of her disease,
but the little girl was still sick. The magician looked through all the magic books, but there were
no spells or potions that could cure Maggie’s disease. All three of Maggie’s friends were very sad
for they felt that they had failed.
After the three days were over, the doctor, the minister, and the magician returned to Maggie’s
house and told her the bad news. “We’re sorry,” they said, “but we couldn’t find a cure. We did
our best.” And the three friends began to cry.
“Don’t cry,” said Maggie. “Before I was sick I had many friends, but now they’re all afraid to
visit me. This disease I have is a terrible one, but it’s nothing compared to the loneliness I’ve felt
these last few days. I now know loneliness is the worse disease of all.
“Right now the medicine I need most is your friendship.
“The prayer I need most is for you to simply be with me.
“And the magic I need most is your love.”
And so the doctor, the minister, and the magician gathered around the little girl and laid their
hands upon her. In the silence that followed, it is said that they found the cure.
READING “Otherwise” Jane Kenyon
I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.
At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day. But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.
Sermon: We are Called to Care Rev. Maddie Sifantus
I may have mentioned it before but I have a long-time practice of how I start my day—
before I stumble into the kitchen to make my first cup of coffee of the day or I look out the
window to see if my paper has arrived or what the weather might be, I put my legs over the side
of the bed, feel my feet solidly on the ground and stand up. And I say out loud and with whatever gusto I can summon at that hour, “It’s a new day!” Sometimes I even do a sun salute! “It’s a new
When I was a young girl, going with my family to an ecumenical Christian retreat on
Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire—yes that same lake I mention so often that is my
spiritual home—each day started with a walk from whatever room or cabin I was in that year to
the dining hall where we waited in line for the doors to open. We were high on a hill looking
over the beautiful lake and the mountains. Every day the weather was a little different. And every
day Alice Kraft, a woman who looked to be very old to me as a kid but was probably in her
seventies would say, “It’s a new day!”
This came, I figured out later, from the Psalm 118 (24), “This is the day that the Lord has
made; let us rejoice and be glad it in.” But Alice shortened it to “It’s a new day!” That’s sums it
up for me. It’s a new day! Let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24). I can hear Alice’s
voice ringing in my ears to this day.
It’s a new day! It has been one of the themes of my life when each new twist and turn
comes along. A marriage breaks up—it’s a new day! A new idea like the Golden Tones elder
chorus comes along—it’s a new day! I get admitted to seminary and immediately have a baptism
by fire in Theology, Ethics and the Arts with the late Max Stackhouse—it’s a new day! My son
marries a woman I totally love and they surprise me with two grandchildren—it’s a new day! I
am nearly killed in an auto accident caused by an elderly driver and my totaled car ends up spun
around where I can see First Parish in Wayland, my home church, out of one window and the
senior center where I run the Golden Tones out of the other—it’s a new day! My son and family
move from Metropolitan New York across the country to Orange County—it’s a new day!
Several of my closest friends die of cancer, including my dear friend and main classical
accompanist of recent years, Beverly Pickering—it’s a new day! Most recently my dear friend
and jazz musician Paul Broadnax dies at age 92. It’s a new day! My parents and all of their
generation pass on. It’s a new day! I uproot everything four years ago, leaving two small
congregations I was serving in Massachusetts to move to a settled ministry in Santa Paula,
California—it is definitely a new day! These days this mantra I begin each day with might be
called a gratitude practice. For me it has been a thread leading from my childhood and winding
its way through my life. And it is recognition that whatever happens, someday it will be
Here in our beloved congregation, there have been many times when folks before us in
these pews must have said something like, “It’s a new day.” Certainly, when the initial founders
gathered, had this building constructed and opened, they would have said “it’s a new day.” But
even back in the early days, as MaryBeth East and our Canvas Committee are discovering by
studying our archives, there were trials and tribulations, times of “otherwise” and times to
reinvent themselves for the new day. Or times when they “upcycled” themselves, in current
Upcycling, if you have never heard of it, is known as creative reuse. It is the process of
transforming by-products, waste materials, useless, or unwanted products into new materials or
products of better quality or for better environmental value. Upcycling is the opposite of downcycling, which is the other half of the recycling process.1
I mentioned a new book over the
summer, Upcycle Your Congregation,
2 which puts forth the concept of upcycling to meet the
needs of the 21st century for congregations. In it, Beth Norton, the Music Director of First Parish
in Concord, Massachusetts talks about how that congregation has been upcycling since its
founding in 1636. Here our history goes to our Gathering in 1889 and we are still in our first
building built in 1891. But we have upcycled many times as times changed. But what hasn’t
changed is the culture of caring, I propose; that constant which has kept this congregation
together over time, whatever the size of membership which has fluctuated with ups and downs
and whatever the needs of its buildings, its ministerial leadership, the makeup of its Board of
Trustees and its members and friends. This is what is often called now Shared Ministry although
it would have been present in various guises since our founding, with groups like the Mary As
and others.
Shared ministry: In UU congregations across the continent, rich and various programs are
thriving in which clergy and laity minister together. Shared ministry under that term has been
going on for a while in Unitarian Universalism and has produced significant innovations.
At the root of shared ministry is the belief that all people, not just trained and ordained
clergy like me, are called to share their gifts and serve one another in religious community. What does that mean, you might ask? Sharing the ministry means laypeople participating in worship
services as we do here with our Worship Associates, now called Worship Hosts, since the
meeting of our new Worship Team this last Monday night. It means laypeople—you, the people
in the pews—visiting the sick and the elderly. It means helping out in Religious Education,
perhaps offering a course or workshop for our adults, a multigenerational event or being with our
youngest. It means participating in the official leadership of the congregation on the Board of
Trustees, or sitting on the Committee on Congregational Life which meets to talk about the
ministries of our congregation—both my ministry as ordained clergy but also all of our
ministries. And it means addressing all the needs of our members and friends, including our
neighbors in the larger community.
Which brings me to our Caring Committee, which is who and what inspired the service
this morning. All last year our Caring Committee met monthly to consider those needs of our
members and friends and our place in the larger Santa Paula community. This was significantly
more than figuring out who was going to send birthday or anniversary cards but rather thinking
about lay pastoral ministry. Ministry for times of “otherwise.” That word “ministry” was one of
the very first things we talked about, since some of the six members were uncomfortable about
naming this form of caring, “ministry.” That they would be lay ministers. Some felt that ministry
was my job—which of course it is. I have the training and years of experience both in parish and
community ministry that they don’t have. But we had a year of training and it is ongoing. And I
am their backstop. Our Caring Committee members—or lay ministers, if you will—are not
expected to do things they are not trained and qualified to do. Or perhaps you could call them
pastoral visitors. Oh, the UU language thing!
I believe that what the Caring Committee does is a shared ministry. We are part of a
small congregation, so we pick out the programs and activities we can do. Yes, we go on with
the birthday and anniversary cards (if we have your birthday and anniversary dates!). But we also
pay attention to people’s life circumstances the best we can, perhaps giving or finding rides here
and there, a phone call or email. I am sure over the life of this congregation there have been
many times of casserole brigades, when someone needs a meal after coming home from surgery.
We spent a lot of time talking about being a visitor to a hospital room or nursing home,
how to listen and when to let me know if there is a special concern. We keep track of the
Memorial Rose Garden outside the church and are at the beginning of creating a Memorial Book where we can remember former members who have died. We have sponsored three workshops
on Five Wishes so far, with another one to take place at the Santa Paula Senior Center next
month. We had an adult program, Hindsight Humor and Hope, thinking about looking back and
looking forward in our lives, as we are all aging. And we encourage everyone to fill out the
UUCSP Information Sheet, giving me the information I need to reach a family member or friend
in an emergency or help plan for end-of-life arrangements, if you wish to add those. One day it
will be Otherwise: just as it was for poet Jane Kenyon who died too young from cancer at age 49,
leaving behind her poet husband, Donald Hall, who died this year at 92.
We have a busy year of continuing training coming up, two events in our Parish Hall we
are co-sponsoring with the Ventura Area Agency on Aging, and more. You are all part of our
shared ministry. We would love to have anyone interested join us on the Caring Committee or
suggest ways we can support our members, friends and community. Because we all know that
one day, it will be “otherwise” and we need each other to navigate those times, to listen to each
other and be there in times of need.
I end with this piece about ministry by the late minister Gordon McKeeman which he
entitled, “Anyone’s Ministry”:
Ministry is
• a quality of relationship between and among human beings that beckons forth hidden
• inviting people into deeper, more constant, more reverent relationship with the world and
with one another;
• carrying forward a long heritage of hope and liberation that has dignified and informed
the human venture over many centuries;
• being present with, to, and for others in their terrors and torments; in their grief, misery
and pain; knowing that those feelings are our feelings, too;
• celebrating the triumphs of the human spirit, the miracles of birth and life, the wonders of
devotion and sacrifice;
• witnessing to life-enhancing values;
• speaking truth to power;
• speaking for human dignity and equity, for compassion and aspiration;
• believing in life in the presence of death;
• struggling for human responsibility against principalities and structures that ignore
humaneness and become instruments of death.
It is all these and much, much more than all of them, present in the wordless, the unspoken, the
It is speaking and living the highest we know and living with the knowledge that it is never as
deep, or as wide or a high as we wish.
Whenever there is a meeting that summons us to our better selves, wherever
• our lostness is found,
• our fragments are united,
• our wounds begin healing,
• our spines stiffen and
• our muscles grow strong for the task,
there is ministry.
May it be so. Blessed be. Amen.