“Most of our ministers stay three to five years,” said Margaret Johnson, a member of Christ’s Lutheran Church in Woodstock. “Pastor Sonja has been here for 20 years, and we’re lucky to have her.”
The public is invited to a reception at the church on Sunday, September 15, at noon, in honor of Pastor Sonja Maclary, who was ordained two decades ago and came to Woodstock to shepherd her first congregation. In attendance will be the Reverend Dr. Jonathan Linman, Assistant to the Bishop for Faith and Leadership Formation of the Metropolitan Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Pastor Linman will preach and share in the leadership of the liturgy at the 10:30 a.m. service before the reception.
Johnson, who has been a church member for 52 years, said, “We have a peaceful, sharing, loving congregation. If you need a support system, the church is behind you. Pastor Sonja knows every one of us and knows what each person’s strengths are, and she works with those. She lets people take the lead, but she’s also taking the lead.”
Maclary grew up in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where the Lutheran church “was at the center of my community and my family life. My mom sang in the choir. It was a place of extended family and nurture and welcome for me. I still talk about that at our church now, that the church has a calling and a special identity to welcome and embrace people.”
At Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, she studied politics and economics and was considering law school, but “a growth in faith and a change in priorities” led her to the ministry instead. She received a masters degree in divinity from Yale, studied at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, and had a year-long internship at a church in Washington DC.
When she arrived in Woodstock, “I was told that people at this church like to hear about God’s love. They were excited to have a new pastor, and I was excited to be in Woodstock. They had started the Daily Bread Soup Kitchen a few years earlier, and I wanted to support it.” She personally was coordinator of the food pantry in her first decade in town.
Pastor Sonja describes her congregation as generous, caring, and engaged in helping others. “I totaled it up one year and found our congregation had helped raise $20,000 for missions and projects, sometimes working with other groups in the area. Each month or season we have a mission area of focus, trying to support some ministry in our community or around the world,” whether it’s education in Africa or welcoming immigrants to the local community.
“When Hurricane Irene hit,” said Maclary, “the congregation was there, reaching out and working to care for neighbors up the road in Fleischmanns with donations and support.”
Other initiatives have include a peace camp in the summer and a series of Spanish classes, led by a church member, aimed at giving people the basics to communicate with Spanish-speaking neighbors. The church has partnered with Family of Woodstock to offer workshops, such as the upcoming “SafeTalk” Suicide Alertness Training, which will be held at the church on October 29.
Pastor Sonja is a member of the Woodstock Interfaith Council, a clergy group that she describes as “a big source of welcome and support. I have consistently, in the past 20 years, felt blessed by my leadership colleagues in Woodstock. Our annual Thanksgiving service and Earth Day service have been meaningful and special.”
In 2016, she received a community spirit award from the YWCA. “That was not my award,” said Maclary. “In our community, it’s all done by a ‘we’ that includes the work of the holy spirit. In 20 years, I’m going to look back, not with a sense of pride but with humility and awe at what God has been able to do in this place through these people. I’m in awe.”
The public is invited to a reception in honor of Pastor Sonja Maclary following the 10:30 a.m. service at Christ’s Lutheran Church on September 16. The church is located at 26 Mill Road in Woodstock.