T he Rev. Sonya Sukalski has spent the past three years leading the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Tuolumne County on a temporary basis, but recently was made the congregation’s permanent minister.
“I’m still part-time,” Sukalski said, “but it’s a more permanent arrangement. It’s called ‘being called.’ ”
Sukalski said her contract with the Unitarians in Tuolumne County is now open-ended, “and that reflects recognition on the part of myself and the congregation that we have long-term work to do together.”
Sukalski said she and the congregation will take a new look it the UU’s mission and vision and how they plan to serve Tuolumne County.
“We’re looking at how we can be a force for love and justice in the community.”
Sukalski, 52, lives in Castro Valley but comes up one weekend a month to lead one of the fellowship’s twice monthly Sunday meetings. She makes a long weekend of her visits and leads a group at Skyline Assisted Living in Sonora on the Fridays before and various other meetings on Saturdays. A satellite group of Unitarians meet the second and fourth Sundays in Douglas Flat.
She has held positions at the First Unitarian Church of San Jose, Unitarian Universalist Church in Livermore, Starr King UU Church, Hayward, and the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley, in addition to many teaching and preaching engagements at numerous churches and fellowships.
Starting next month, the UUFTC will meet at the Tuolumne County Library in Sonora for the winter.
“The fellowship house (on Hess Avenue in East Sonora) we own, and it’s nice to meet out on the patio in summer,” she said. “We meet outside in the oak grove in the summer, and then in winter we meet in the library.”
The oak grove at the UUFTC’s Fellowship House is where Sukalski’s installation was held on Aug. 26.
Members of the congregation, which is about 70 strong, along with about 20 “interfaith colleagues,” including UU ministers from other congregations, attended the ceremony, which was held under a tent in the oak grove.
“It just made it such a transcendent experience,” she said. “All these people coming together was very uplifting and inspiring … especially with the news of today.”
Sukalski grew up in New Mexico where she enjoyed hiking and backpacking in the mountains, so she spends much of her free time on her Tuolumne County visits exploring the Sierra Nevada and Yosemite.
“It’s nice sometimes to leave the Bay Area behind,” she said.
Sukalski moved with her family — husband, Mitch, and twin daughters — to California in 2003. She was introduced to Unitarian Universalism while living in Los Alamos when her daughters were 5 years old.
She and her husband found Unitarian Universalism to be a good fit for their family.
“Unitarians have throughout the centuries been very clear thinkers, so they ask a lot of questions,” she said. “My husband and I were both very questioning. We grew up Catholic, and we had questions and people wanted to engage those questions.”
Sukalski said Unitarians have a sense of acceptance and welcoming to the many different ways of looking at the world.
“We thought it was important to our kids to understand that there … are just a lot of different ways to move people around a town or build a house … so we like the open-mindedness that came with the Unitarians. Their emphasis on social justice and equality for everybody sounded like a part of open-heartedness that we value.”
Unitarians come from all political, social and religious backgrounds including liberal Christians, Jewish, humanist, Buddhist, nature lovers and others.
“UUs don’t have a creed,” Sukalski said, “so there are not a set of beliefs that you have to espouse. There’s an interest in being on the journey of finding answers together.”
The fellowship’s mission statement is to provide a sanctuary for individual beliefs; encourage spiritual and ethical growth, create respect for the web of life; and promote justice and peace.
When not in Tuolumne County, Sukalski preaches at other congregations around the state and participates in other Unitarian-led projects.
Sukalski earned a master’s of divinity degree at Starr King School for the Ministry in 2007, one of three Unitarian Universalist theological seminaries in the United States. She was ordained as a Unitarian Universalist minister in 2010, and received Final Fellowship in the denomination in 2013.
The Tuolumne County fellowship has been around for about 27 years and has plans to eventually build a sanctuary on its Hess Avenue property.
“One of the things I really love about the Sonora group is, almost to a person, when people come to visit, they say ‘Oh my goodness, there is so much warmth and friendliness here’ … and it stays.”
For more information about the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Tuolumne County, go online to www.uuftc.org.