According to the sign that greets people coming into town, Sonora is considered the Queen of the Southern Mines in Gold Rush Country. Starting in 1848, panning and mining gold brought people to this foothill area, about one hour from Yosemite. A little over 70 years later, on April 23, 1921, an Adventist church was established. Continuing to “pan for God’s gold” over 100 years later, there are over 900 members in Sonora’s Discover Life church, with Mother Lode Adventist Junior Academy (MLAJA) adjacent to the church building, and Adventist Health Sonora, a 152-bed hospital, not too far away. On October 14-15, 2022, the Adventist community was finally able to celebrate the blessings that God has poured out in Sonora over the last 100 years.
The VBS was so exciting. I loved seeing our own youth leading out. They took responsibility, and it is amazing how well it ran. I feel like God reached the community through the kids.
The pandemic was a factor in the delay for the 100th anniversary celebration. Because the facility was basically closed to in-person services during this time, it became an opportunity to completely renovate the church. When Nathan Renner, the senior pastor for the last 13 years, left for his new assignment in Tennessee in the fall of 2021, Danita Rasmussen, interim pastor, relied on social media to provide church services. As was often said during this time period, the church wasn’t closed, just the building.
In April of 2022, just about the time that things were opening up and church services could once more be held, Pastor Jim Berglund and his wife, Shelly, came from Texas to be the new senior pastor. Changes also included Tyson Kahler and his family, who arrived in September from Minnesota to be the youth pastor. Both pastors can testify that Sonora certainly does “pan for God’s gold,” and they are delighted to begin plans for some very important church activities.
Although Pastor Berglund is noted for his illustrated and thoughtful sermons, the students at MLAJA will tell you that he can beat them at four square. They also know him as the train conductor at the well-planned, youth-directed summer VBS program. Reflecting on how Sadie Gomez, a senior in high school, led out in VBS, Berglund said, “The VBS was so exciting. I loved seeing our own youth leading out. They took responsibility, and it is amazing how well it ran. I feel like God reached the community through the kids.”
100-Year Celebration on October 14 and 15
In October, 100 years could finally be celebrated, recognizing the three very important ways God brought “gold” to Sonora: the church, the school, and the hospital. On Friday night, the school, Mother Lode Adventist Junior Academy, was highlighted. Although a school was started in 1921, it was during the 60s and 70s that the school really started to become what it is today. The history of how the school was purchased and built was shared, and in the “Tell Me the Story” section, former students shared the impact of Christian education on their lives. Back for the weekend, Renner shared in his message how the school and the church have worked together through the years.
On Sabbath morning, the celebration continued with the story of the impact of the hospital, now known as Adventist Health Sonora. Hospital administrator Michelle Fuentes explained that the medical facility had changed ownership several times since 1900 but was finally given to the Adventist Church in 1961. The hospital’s “Tell Me the Story” section was presented by former patients, medical personnel, and chaplains, who testified to the influence the medical work has had on “God’s gold.”
During the packed worship service, the 100-year history of the church itself was celebrated. Ron Rasmussen gave special greetings from the Central California Conference, and Bradford Newton delivered a message by video from the Pacific Union Conference. Pastors who have served over the years were recognized, and several of them were in attendance. Former Pastor Jim McMurry shared in his sermon how he saw God bless the work in Sonora. He also invited Renner to join him in a dedicatory prayer for Pastor Berglund, who now takes up the mantle of spiritual leadership.
After a potluck extraordinaire, an afternoon memorial service was held for John Mooy, a former teacher at MLAJA and a longtime member of the church. It all ended with a gym night that provided the opportunity for people to gather and share their memories. There were many who volunteered and contributed to the weekend celebration, but a special thanks goes to the planning committee composed of the two pastors, Pam Palmer, Ruth Caldwell, Cheryl Calderaro, and Arnold Trujillo.
By Deloris Trujillo