August 25, 2022 | by JB Brayfindley
Located in the Sonoma Valley wine region, The Sonoma County circuit stretches south from Windsor UMC through Santa Rosa to Petaluma UMC and west to Sonoma UMC. The circuit includes several parishes including Rohnert Park’s St. John’s UMC yoked with Petaluma UMC and Forestville yoked with Sebastopol.
“We’re all pretty close together,” states Sonoma County circuit leader Rev. Lindsey Bell-Kerr. Bell-Kerr serves as pastor at Christ Church UMC in Santa Rosa and at Sonoma State University working with students. “We’re all held within one county which, to me, means that we have a lot of opportunities to talk about social justice work in the county government… and county disaster preparedness… and the county’s response to increased homelessness across our county.”
Over the years the circuit has worked together on several fundraisers including for Imagine No Malaria. The circuit shares witness at Sonoma County PRIDE each year, sponsors a once-a-year circuit training experience, and participates in shared Holy Week services and a joint Blue Christmas worship. The circuit also continues to support Sonoma States students by sending care packages, donating to the campus food pantry, and participating in alumni interfacings with students.
During the pandemic, the circuit churches scrambled to put together online services. Sonoma UMC served as the model for Christ Church as they installed new cameras and other equipment into their sanctuary. Now, Christ Church uses Zoom to share prayer requests during in person worship services. Windsor and Christ Church UMCs collaborate on several pre-recorded sermon series in the Fall and winter months to share within the circuit. Most churches have an online presence that is continuing past the pandemic. The churches are continuing to produce and share pre-recorded sermons to use within the in person worship.
“COVID made us more collaborative,” states Bell-Kerr, “…it was an opportunity for us to share resources. We shared recorded services and best practices… and now because we have the option to include people in worship and things on zoom like we do in combined worship services, we’ll have as many people joining remotely as in person.”
“Also, we have a great group of retired pastors who support our ministry,” Bell-Kerr notes adding that the circuit invites the retirees to circuit wide events including hosting an annual lunch to get to know one another. “Our circuit clergy regularly meet with our retired clergy.”
Forestville/Sebastopol UMCs focus on service to their local communities including hosting a food pantry. Local Pastor Iunisi Tovo serves the two point charge in the west county which is the least populated area in the circuit.
Petaluma UMC, located downtown, participates in the town’s civic life often providing outdoor worship services, especially during COVID. It has a Fijian language ministry. According to Bell-Kerr, the church focuses on “staying really visible in their community.” Pastor Rob Herrman serves Petaluma and Rohnert Park, St. John’s UMC. St. John’s has committed itself to supporting the campus ministry at Sonoma State, about 1 mile away from the church.
Santa Rosa First UMC, which has two campuses, Stony Point and Montgomery, is served Rev. Janette Saveedra and Associate Hyun Ho Park. The church has a strong ministry with the unsheltered population and is currently focusing on revitalizing their contemporary worship service.
Rev. Lindsey Bell-Kerr pastors Santa Rosa Christ Church UMC focusing on integrating with non-profits in Sonoma County. The church is making some shifts in their church campus to invite community partnerships such as a veteran’s counseling collective, Sonoma County Black Forum, an affiliate north Bay organizing project, Harvest for the Hungry Garden, and an interfaith food pantry,” states Bell-Kerr. “So, we could find ways to work more collaborative …with people who are doing good work in our communities.”
Sonoma UMC’s welcomes their new pastor, the retired Rev. Tony Ubalde. During the pandemic Sonoma served as a resource to the circuit as each church was developing tech pieces, “we learned quite a bit about how to develop sanctuary technology… that’s where we got our prototype from,” states Bell-Kerr.
Rev. Laurie Bayen serves Windsor UMC working collaboratively with Christ Church UMC on shared worship service series, inviting each other to Bible studies and other events. The congregation strongly supports the student ministry at Sonoma State.