Note: Pastor Rich Gantenbein Of St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Sonoma passed away suddenly on Saturday, April 27th, his 68th Birthday
Rich Gantenbein’s vision for Missions both globally and locally was profound in helping others reach their personal faith. His ability to see those in need on many levels was profound in the foundation of St Andrew’s many years of serving both Sonoma Valley and Sonoma County.
For 11 years St Andrew has embraced a tradition of “Don’t Go to Church”, closing its doors for one Sunday a year and celebrating our faith in action. It was an important staple in Rich’s vision that we partner up with our community to connect and serve. This year we both celebrated and mourned our Sunday of action on May 5th one week after losing Rich. We had over 140 people in our community serving the schools, cemeteries, elderly homes and other local non-profits. Connecting thru our faith on this special Sunday was a testimony of Rich’s legacy. Other local Mission works of St Andrew are Mentoring Alliance, Brown baggers, Sonoma Overnight Shelter, FISH, Angel Tree, Christmas shoebox project, Young Life and our SA youth group caravans. Rich also was instrumental in sharing the St. Andrew Church facility with 2 Hispanic congregations, and having shared social events with those congregations. Each one of these are a tribute to a vision that began when one soulful, kind, humble man discovered that for faith to grow we must give it away.
At the heart of St Andrew principle Mission work is the 12 step foundation of healing. Rich had a natural talent for weaving the 12 steps into his sermons. Approximately 5 years ago Rich along with a small group founded the Thursday night Hunger for Healing group. The lives that have been transformed from his leadership of 12 step programs is countless, his legacy will live on in many residents of the Sonoma Valley.
Rich’s legacy lives on not only in Missions, but in the lives that he touched. Below is the story of Tracy, a long time resident of the Sonoma Valley who has attended St. Andrew for many years with Rich as her Pastor.
I first came to St. Andrew at the age of 14. My girlfriend had been killed in a car accident and her memorial service was held at St. Andrew. Pastor Rich had only been the pastor for 6 months, and walked his congregation through the difficult process of grieving the loss of a child. I found the church a safe place to ask questions, and to be angry with God. Pastor Rich came alongside me and offered to walk through the uncertainties of it all. Little did I know at that time that St. Andrew would become my home church and has remained such for 38 years. I joined St. Andrew’s youth group, was recruited to volunteer at the annual Vacation Bible Camp, and even had the opportunity to teach a 2nd grade Sunday School class while I was in high school.
When my eldest daughter felt called to mission workat the age of 17 I was afraid of sending her out into the world. Rich had a better idea. He sent us both to Romania as the leaders of the mission to provide a Vacation Bible Camp to the Roma children in Transylvania! Five years later, we are still traveling to Romania. Twice a year our church visits the remote villages, where we deliver coats, boots, schools supplies, and provide flour to make bread through the winter. During the summer, a committed team travels to lead a camp, complete with healthy meals and a message that God see’s them and loves them. Rich said that mission work, although it is meant to serve others, always ends up having the most profound impact on ourselves.
Rich was like another father figure to me. He counseled me through the tough spots, celebrated life’s triumphs, and sat with me in the darkest moments of despair. Perhaps his greatest gift was his willingness to be fully present, experience your emotions, and navigate them with you. He helped me realize that the only way to find happiness was to look outside of yourself, and that gratitude and acts of kindness weren’t just good ideas, but essential to contentment and faith development.
I am who I am today, in such a large part, because of St. Andrew, Pastor Rich, on the congregation that has loved me and my family through life. Together they have all taught me to keep life simple… to Connect With God, Grow in Community, and to Serve the World. It’s not just words on the back of a church bulletin, it’s who I have become.