With a history extending over 225 years, the members of the Peacham Congregational Church voted to call Reverend Sonia Dunbar as its permanent or “settled” Pastor at a special meeting held on Sunday, August 16th. She was previously serving as interim Pastor since January of 2019.
Reverend Dunbar is the 31st settled Pastor in the history of the congregation, which celebrated its 225th anniversary in 2019. The historic church building celebrates its 215th anniversary in 2021.
“In June 2017, standing in the presence of my Creator, I vowed to live my life and ministry as a “Celtic Wise One” – a healer, historian, artist, and Guide Between the Worlds,” said Dunbar, who is an interfaith-interspiritual minister. “If you think about it, that sounds remarkably Christian, doesn’t it? Christianity in fact is my native religious background and spiritual language. My aspiration is to live as Jesus taught, possessed by the Holy Spirit, and profoundly in love with my Creator, the Sovereign of Mysteries.”
Before she was called as interim Pastor, church leaders held personal meetings with members of the congregation and the Peacham community to inquire about the qualities they were interested in for a new Pastor and the role of the church in the community’s future. Two themes emerged--that the church continue with the Congregational tradition and introduce elements of other faiths.
Reverend Dunbar was helpful in creating opportunities for new programs such as lay participation in Sunday services, working with church and community leaders to host a new childcare program at the church, the introduction of weekly interfaith services, redirecting the focus of mission work, and increasing outreach in the community with her “Loving Your Neighbor – Interfaith Moments.” And then in March 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic hit.
“With a pandemic, pastoral care and outreach needed to look radically different and the role of technology in supporting care cannot be understated, said Dunbar. “Distance pastoral care will continue for many months and lay involvement will expand, where possible, beyond our walls. We are establishing a food pantry at the Peacham Congregational Church in response to needs by our community during this pandemic.”
As a result of dedicated efforts during the pandemic, the church has welcomed new members and has seen an increase in the support for church missions. The number of messages of gratitude for the church’s presence in the community has also grown.
“We are thrilled that Sonia has been called by our members as the church’s settled Pastor. She is committed to mission. She is a Biblical, interfaith, and even Celtic scholar. She is most important an inspiration and friend to all,” said John Marshall, Chair of the Church Council. “Leading a church community through a pandemic requires, as Sonia has said, pastoral care and outreach that is radically different. Her leadership during this time of transition for the church and now pandemic has shown that she is the one to lead the next chapter of our church’s 225-year history.”
Reverend Dunbar was an active member of the Greensboro United Church of Christ (UCC) for many years, serving as Church School and Youth Group Coordinator, and on the Mission and Diaconate and the Church Council at various times, as well as singing in the choir and providing special music.
In 2014 she completed a Congregational-United Church of Christ (UCC) lay ministry training program and went on to become an ordained interfaith-interspiritual minister in 2017. She has a variety of skills and interests that include a degree in early music, work at the state level on church vitality and growth, and several years of pulpit supply, including sabbatical coverage and ‘bridge’ coverage (the period between the exit of a prior minister and an incoming interim minister).
She was raised on a dairy farm in East Craftsbury, VT. Her grandfather was born on Walden Mountain and her great-grandparents are buried in North Danville. Her hobbies include reading, watching professional bull riding, and gardening. She also was a licensed attorney for about 15 years, working primarily with children in high-conflict divorces. She resides in East Craftsbury.
For information on the Peacham Congregational Church, visit www.peachamchurch.org.