The Early Years

St. Andrew Presbyterian Church has been a fixture of the Sonoma Valley for over 60 years! Having seen its share of joys and sorrow, challenges and triumphs, the congregation of St. Andrew has grown not only in numbers but also in faith.


In 1960, the congregation of St. Andrew met at the home of The Rev. William Huskins, who subsequently became the first pastor. In 1961, the Presbytery of the Redwoods purchased the Spreckles’ family carriage house. The carriage house interior was finished in the finest glistening mahogany and fir paneling. With an area totaling 6,200 square feet, the two-story building was more than adequate for the newly formed church. The parishioners set to work transforming the old building. The large carriage room became the sanctuary, seating about 175 people. The tack room became the social room and the large double horse stalls became six Sunday school rooms. Another long row of horse stalls was converted into a choir room and a nursery room.


Through the intervening years, the church was well served by a series of very capable pastors that included Ian Fraser, Morris Roach, Hugh Goss, William Dunlap, Douglas Millham, and Richard Gantenbein.

Devastation on Palm Sunday

As was the custom in the church, a work party of congregants cleaned up the building and grounds just before Easter Sunday. Inside the building, congregants were cleaning, dusting, washing windows, and sprucing up the various rooms for the coming holiday.


Early in the evening of Palm Sunday, March 19, 1989,  the beloved old carriage house caught fire. Oil- and turpentine-soaked rags used to polish the huge old hinges, walls and doors spontaneously combusted in a garbage can, quickly engulfing the building and all of its contents.


One of the only items to survive the fire was the large, handmade, walnut-on-oak Celtic cross fixed on the outside of the church. While the rest of the building roared in flames, the cross stood intact, attached to the only wall left standing. Despite orders not to go inside the burning building, a group of firemen, led by congregation member and firefighter Tom Shearer, rushed to the cross and dragged it out as its supporting wall collapsed.

Laughter and Tears Beside the Ashes

When asked for comment, then Pastor Rich Gantenbein summed up the fire with these words, “We must recognize that a church is not a building. We will pull together, we will make it together. That is the only way.” With that, St. Andrew picked itself up and continued on, holding Easter services as planned but with a twist – outside in the parking lot.


As luck would have it, there was something else left in the ashes, Pastor Rich told the congregation and other well-wishers gathered for Easter services. Two parishioners sifting through the rubble turned up a signed but intact sheet of choir music by the Van Trapp family. The title of the piece Pastor Rich held in his hand for all to see was “Bring Your Torches.”


When the ensuing laughter died down, Pastor Rich reminded the nearly 200 present to, “always keep a sense of humor, even in the midst of tears.” He also urged his congregation to see a new opportunity in the ashes and to participate in the rebuilding of the church.

Rebuilding the Church

It was decided that the church would be rebuilt on the same site. On February 22, 1990, less than one year after the fire, the entire process was complete and St. Andrew was on its way to a new home.


Groundbreaking ceremonies were held on the site on Easter Sunday, 1991, just two years after the fire. Following the design of noted architect William Turnbull Jr., the construction process took approximately one year from start to finish. The first Sunday services in the new church were held on March of 1992, just three years and ten days after the fire. The old oak cross, rescued from the fire, can be seen just outside the Narthex.


There are lessons to be learned throughout life, some incidental, some major. In the case of St. Andrew, the fire worked to bring an already self-described “close-knit” church community closer together. Individuals and families, community members, and tradespeople gave generously of their time, talent, and resources to help the church rebuild.


Seizing the challenge of rebuilding as an opportunity rather than an obstacle, as Pastor Rich described, has proven to be an exhilarating and long-term experience for St. Andrew as a whole.


As a congregation, let us always be alert to the possibilities before us, both spiritually and physically, to lean into God’s grace in a hurting world.

Honoring the Past, Inspiring the Future

On April 27, 2019, our beloved pastor, Rev. Rich Gantenbein of 38 years died unexpectedly. After a few transition years filled with grief and gratitude for his life, we welcomed our current pastor. Rev. Nicole Trotter thinks often of Pastor Rich’s legacy and his care for this community that grew exponentially during his tenure. Rev. Trotter says, “There is rarely a day that I don’t thank Rich and God (not necessarily in that order) for what they were able to accomplish together. This is a unique community that continues to be a gift to me and so many others. I look forward to discovering with God and one another what the next chapter brings.”

Pastor Rich in the St Andew Sanctuary

Former Pastor Rich Gantenbein

Rev. Nicole Trotter

Pastor Nicole Trotter