Turlock Covenant Church’s newest pastor is no stranger to travel. Since he left Sweden five years ago, Thomas Simonsson’s journeys have taken him from Chicago to Alaska, and now, Turlock.
“I really enjoy the small town feel — it’s definitely smaller than Chicago” said Simonsson. “I don’t know if slow-paced is the right way to describe it, but it’s a solid city with everything you need.”
Simonsson left everything in Sweden behind him to move to Chicago five years ago after tragedy struck. His wife, who was pregnant with their first child at the time, fell victim to a heart condition that not only took her life, but the life of their unborn baby.
“I kind of just lost all interest in what I was doing,” said Simonsson, who was a salesman when his wife and child passed. “In seeking God, I believe He called me to sell everything I had and move to Chicago.”
Despite the heartbreak, Simonsson was able to obtain a degree in Music and Worship in Chicago, where he also met his now wife of one year, Katiya.
“That was such a healing thing, moving on and being able to fall in love and trusting that life will be alright,” he said. “Ever since, God has been opening doors in ways that I could never imagine.”
One such door opened in Turlock at Turlock Covenant Church, where Simonsson is now a youth group coordinator and director of worship and music. Simonsson and Katiya moved to Alaska after their time in Chicago, but came to Turlock based on a desire to settle on the West Coast.
The area isn’t entirely unfamiliar to the pastor and his wife, however, as the two traveled the Central Valley together upon meeting as part of a gospel choir tour. The pair have been married for a year now, and are happy to have settled in Turlock.
“We’re happy to be in a solid place with good people,” said Simonsson. “We both really enjoy the small town kind of mentality and feel.”
At Turlock Covenant Church, Simonsson is responsible for directing volunteers in the church’s youth program and creating relevant topics for children to discuss. Though he’s never been a youth coordinator before, he enjoys the conversations that he has with the community’s adolescents.
“Sometimes it’s easier to work with the younger generation than the older,” said Simonsson.
In addition to his youth group duties, Simsonsson also oversees all aspects of the congregation’s music and worship, from how each song is sung to how the stage behind the performers looks. Simonsson sings and plays piano in the worship band, and sometimes incorporates his Lutheran Church upbringing into the music by playing the pipe organ. Simsonsson said that his services are often influenced by various musical cultures, such as African American gospel.
“It’s a lot of creativity and coordinating with the choirs and brass band,” said Simonsson. “There’s a wide variety in our service, which is good because we’re a very diverse congregation.”
Simonsson also started the church’s first gospel choir, which will have its first performance in December.
“Music was always my thing,” he said. “I always had a talent with music and instruments, but kind of got tired of it...but God called me back to serve through the gift I was given in music.”
Having already lived in Sweden, Chicago and Alaska, Simonsson is looking forward to starting a life in Turlock.
“If we look at a five-year plan, we would like to be here and establish ourselves,” said Simsonsson. “Right now we’re just settling down and trying to be adults.”