Pastor Anna Bonaro leads the faithful at KP Lutheran Church. Photo: Lisa Bryan, KP News

After a year as pastor of Key Peninsula Lutheran Church, Anna Bonaro has gained new perspective on the Key Peninsula and on the road that led her to it.

Bonaro was immersed in the church from a young age; her mother was a church employee, and her stepfather was a pastor. The experience offered an inside look at the difficulties of full-time ministry. “Working in the church is really hard, it’s a lot of hours. It’s also run by people, and people can make mistakes,” Bonaro said. “I’ve seen a lot of hurt, both in my family and in church members. I was pretty adamant about not working in the church.”

After high school, Bonaro studied at Luther College in Iowa, and began to reevaluate her feelings on ministry. “I’d always had a strong identity as a Christian, but my time in college helped me to claim my faith as my own,” she said. Travel to Asia and Eastern Europe also helped to change her perspective on life and the role of the church. “I began to realize how much broader the world is, and how doing something that I think is small could have a big impact.”

Bonaro’s new perspective led her to apply to seminary in Berkeley, although she wasn’t entirely sure of what would come next. “At that point, I didn’t know where in the church I was going to fit,” she said. She completed a residency as a hospital chaplain, but went on leave from ministry after becoming pregnant with her first child. It was around this time that her husband, a fellow seminary student and native of Pierce County, suggested moving to Washington.

Bonaro worked in a Lutheran church office in Bremerton, but as her children approached school age she began to consider returning to a more active ministry role. Bonaro was initially contacted by KPLC to serve as a fill-in pastor after the departure of their previous pastor, but to her surprise, she was soon offered the position permanently.

When Bonaro began work on the Key Peninsula, she found a community whose self-sufficiency was both a benefit and a barrier. She appreciated the immediate support from church members and how willing they were to assume responsibilities, but also understood the difficulty of growing a church in a place where people often prefer their independence.

“I went to college in rural Iowa; it’s different from here, though a lot of the basic needs are the same,” Bonaro said. “On the KP, it can feel like people really value their privacy. They move out here to be away from everything.”

As Bonaro looks towards the future, she considers change for the church and the community, and how to adapt. “It’s a lot of learning as we go, trial and error, seeing what works.” Options for change have included new community outreach nights, or changing the traditional Lutheran service, which can seem formal to newcomers. Through the process, Bonaro seeks to avoid compromising the church’s core beliefs. “That’s something I’m really trying to figure out, how we can keep our Lutheran theology and practices, but have it be comfortable for anyone that’s coming in.”

Bonaro has a deep appreciation for the KPLC’s commitment to service. “Even if we don’t have the financial means to help people in need, we’re working on other ways that we can help support,” she said. “We may not be able to fully take care of them, but we want to make sure they don’t just leave empty-handed. We want to give them some resources.”

Resources may come in the form of connections with other Key Peninsula community organizations, or information on the Lutheran church’s own hosted events, from AA meetings to hosting a free mobile dental clinic. “Those are the things the church gets really excited about, because this is what we’re called to do. We have such dedicated members that really see it as more than worship on Sunday morning, that it’s so much more,” Bonaro said.

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