Community Church of Sebastopol

United Church of Christ

Come and Find the Quiet Center

1000 Gravenstein Hwy North           707.823.2484

  • 125 Anniversary Celebration!
  • 125 Days of Caring
  • Events
  • Historical Notes

125th Anniversary Celebrations!


In 2014 the Community Church of Sebastopol will celebrate 125 years! It will be a year of celebrations and sharing - exploring our history and marking new milestones. We have numerous activities and celebrations planned throughout the year to commemorate this historic "quasquicnetennial" and we invite your participation. Check out the listings on the Celebration Events tab and let us know what speaks to you - we look forward to hearing from you!

We want to share your stories and pictures on line – email your photos and a brief description and we will post them right here!

Click on any photo to enlarge or to begin a slide show. Enjoy!

125 Days of Caring


February 9 - June 16, 2014

A Call to Share God's Love

How lovely to think that no one need wait a moment, we can start now, start slowly, changing the world. How lovely that everyone, great and small can make their contribution. . . Ann Frank

Help celebrate our church’s 125th Anniversary by sharing your gifts and time with family, friends and the community. Beginning Sunday, February 9th we’ll begin 125 Day of Caring. Here’s how you can participate:

  • Select a Red Heart to Volunteer for a New Project. We’ll have red paper hearts with projects that can make a difference at church, at home and in the community. There will be a variety of projects to choose from—sharing your musical talents with the residents at Fircrest Care and Rehabilitation center, making an entrée for the monthly Saturday lunch, treating your Mom to breakfast in bed on Mother’s Day, or participating in an Earth Day project. There will be activities for children, families, individuals and groups. Find a heart that speaks to your heart and sign the sheet that goes with the activity. After you complete the activity, sign the heart and return it to the basket in the narthex.
  • Select a White Heart to Record Current Activities. We’d also like to recognize all the many activities members are participating in. Write each activity on a separate heart. Sign it and put it in the basket in the lobby.
  • Consider signing up for the 125 Day Challenge and practice an act of caring and kindness each day of the program.
  • We’ll post ALL hearts in the sanctuary. This is a wonderful opportunity to embody God’s love and strengthen our ties to loved ones and community. Help us fill the sanctuary with simple acts of love.

  • Here is a list of possible projects - what speaks to your heart?


    Caring Projects

    • A Morning Helping at the Catholic Worker
    • Prepare food for the 2nd Saturday Lunches for those in need.
    • Kitchen Cleanup Morning, February 22
    • Garden Clean-up Morning, April 5th
    • Visiting Church Members (3 monthly visits)
    • Children's and Youth Projects
    • Backpack, blankets, socks and underwear donations to Task Force for the Homeless
    • Sharing Musical Talents at Fircrest Care and Rehabilitation
    • Providing food for West County Community Services
    • 125 Days of Kindness and Care

Pick a Red Heart from the display and find all the contact information to get started.

We want to share your stories and pictures on line – email your photos and a brief description of the project and we will post them right here!

Celebration Events

Revival Service

November 16

Our"tent" revival was a wonderful success! A huge thank you to all who helped with our Revival Meeting and all of you who dressed the part! Thank you to Lizann Bassham for her inspired preaching. Thank you to Keith Blackstone, Darryl Fenley, Hosanna Bauer, Paula Matzinger and Dave Peterson for the beautiful music. Thank you to Denelle and Gary Tognozzi for putting up their fantastic "tent". Thank you Gail Thomas and Barbara Wilson for the lovely floral arrangements in Memorial Hall and thank you to Joanne Feige for the bales of hay. Thank you Stuart Mitchell for taking photos of this special event (look for those to be posted right here soon!) Thank you to John Simmons, Rachel Knuth, Brian Plaugher, Gene Nelson and Lizann Bassham for the special prayers for and thanks to Keith Blackstone and his crew for set up and clean up. Thank you to Chris Jenkins for planning this wonderful event! And the biggest thank you to all of YOU – thank you for joining us!

Historical Notes

old church

Each month of this 125th Anniversary year, the Consequentialness Committee will include some bit of interesting church history in the monthly newsletters. This month is a history of Camp Cazadero written by the late Sara Gerboth.


1889 – 2014

The History of Camp Cazadero

by Sara Gerboth

A mysterious thing happened at Cazadero Camp before we bought it and we have never found out what actually took place.

The members of the Northern California Conference of the United Church of Christ wanted a conference ground of their own. The churches were dissatisfied with using other’s grounds only at the less desirable, leftover times. Sentiment was leaning toward a camp in Sonoma County and the conference appointed a staff member to search for property. In 1944, she spotted an ad in the San Francisco paper for some land in Cazadero and called Hank Hayden, the minister at Guerneville and asked him to go look at it. Hank, a busy man, decided to take care of two things at once. In his hiking shorts, so unministerial, with his old car full of Guerneville Boy Scouts, he stopped by the little General Store-Post Office-Real Estate Office of Ed Morhardt in Cazadero, to inquire about the property. Ed wasn’t busy that day, so he loaded them all into his pick-up truck and took them up to see the property. (Dorothy McHugh’s sons Rod and Bruce MacKenzie were part of that troop).

The description read: “800 acres north of Cazadero, seven buildings, year-round spring and tank. Redwoods, oaks, Doug firs. Terrible, steep road fording creek. Creek very bad in winter. Need jeep or truck to get up there.”

Ed drove them part of the way, fording the stream several times. Finally he stopped and said, “You will have to hike the rest of the way.” They piled out and saw ahead the very steep hill, which the pick-up couldn’t make with 13 people aboard. Hank and the Boy Scouts climbed the hill, and looked at the property and into the buildings.

“The Ollie Bradley Truth Rest Home,” the sign said, and Hank noted that though it was 1944, 1928 calendars still hung on the walls in the old lodge (Redwood Lodge), baby cribs stood ready for babies, toothbrushes were still in holders and beds were all made up with now-molding blankets. Vines and shrubs had overgrown everything, like a jungle. Bobbette Thompson, a camper, helped clean out this same lodge at the first Easter work camp. She remembers all the clothes in the closets and dresser drawers and other personal items such as combs and brushes lying around as if the occupant would be back any minute. It looked as if they had all left in a hurry. She wondered why – what had happened?

We found out later that the Rev. Mr. Bradley and his wife Ollie, ran the Church of Truth in Santa Rosa. They had acquired the Cazadero property as a group retirement home, but why then the baby cribs? It was a community established on principles of self-sufficiency and independence, and the owners tried hard to stay away from the town and other civilization. They tried to live on the mountain without contact with others. They planted all kinds of fruits and vegetables and preserved them for the winter. One camper tells of cleaning out the canned food basement and throwing away hundreds of colorful jars of peaches, apricots, applesauce, blackberries, raspberries, tomatoes, snap beans, onions and quince. Even though it smelled wonderful, they could take no chance with the possibility of food poisoning from eating the inherited food. The glass jars were hauled up the hill to the dump, and the beautiful contents were buried in trenches dug in the hillside next to the basement. Why hadn’t Church of Truth taken the canned fruit with them, or at least come back for it?

Despite all the questions he had, Hank liked the beautiful meadow surrounded by redwoods, firs and oaks, and he saw potential there. He was intrigued by the variety of fruit trees in the orchard and the gnarly old grape vines. The lodge and the old farmhouse looked sturdy. He eagerly told the Conference office of his opinion of what he had seen. An appointed committee came to look it over, but enthusiasm waned when the older members of the committee could hardly make it up the steep grade and they submitted a negative report.

“Too remote,” they said.

Hank Hayden responded by giving a moving presentation to the Midwinter Conference of Pilgrim Fellowship, the youth groups. The PFers pledged $1,000 of the $21,000 asking price, and since the reports from all the others that visited the camp were overwhelmingly positive, the Conference decided to go ahead with the purchase. The 800 acres were purchased in the winter of 1945 for $21,000. (Wages then were about $1/hour, and houses sold for about $7,000.) Churches of the Northern California Conference were asked to donate. Hank went back to the camp with a photographer, and the best five of the photos were enlarged to 8 ½ x 11 and sent to all the churches with descriptive flyers. Local churches had lively money-raising campaigns, and the total mortgage was paid off in three months.

The next big task was preparation of the property for the summer camping program. The Conference minister asked the Sebastopol Pilgrim Fellowship to go up to Cazadero Camp on the Washington’s Birthday three-day weekend, to try to make enough of it livable so that a Conference Work Camp could be held during Easter vacation. We responded enthusiastically. On Saturday morning, Jack, my boyfriend, drove the family Jeep with my mother and me and several other kids, while his father drove their pickup just ahead of us with Jack’s mother in the front and kids in the back. They had told us that the road was bad and that we would have to ford the stream several times, but we had no idea what we were in for…We had been uneasy when it rained hard all night, and sure enough, the stream was large, brown, roiling, and over its banks in places. We paused behind as the pickup went through the water several times, and then we followed, taking pick-ups and the Jeep only, and it was a good thing. One time, as the pickup went through the water, it hesitated and stopped, and the engine stalled.

“Pile out!” Jack said, and we did.

“Get out and push!” he yelled to the kids in the back of the pickup. They all did. We waded into the swift brown water, shoes, clothes and all. Jack’s father got the engine started and we pushed and pushed. The tires spun, but slowly, slowly, the truck moved forward and out of the water. Most of the boys were dressed in Levis rolled up to their ankles, the style then. Most of the girls were dressed in daring boy’s Levis, just recently considered acceptable for girls (there were no Levis made for girls then), and even though we had them rolled up to our knees as was the fashion of the time, they still got wet, and our shoes and socks filled with mud. Nobody seemed to care; we thought it was fun. We all jumped back into our vehicles and on we went. This scene replayed several times and I noticed that Jack’s dad seemed angry. (I was glad I wasn’t in his truck.) The Jeep made it just fine. When we had finally crossed the seventh and last ford, we stopped and rested a few minutes before we headed up the steep hill. We found out later it was a 28% grade, and by the time we made it to the top, both radiators were steaming. We all piled out, happy to be there. Jack’s father walked away grumbling.

Our job that weekend was to clean out the old farm house (located where the north end of Gill Lodge and kitchen are now) and make it usable. My mother, Jack’s mother, the other girls and I walked to the farmhouse, opened the door and peered in. It was impossible to see anything. In every room layers and layers of cobwebs loaded with dust hung from ceiling to floor. In the dimness at the other end of the kitchen we could make out a big old black wood stove.

“I guess we have our work cut out for us.” my mother said. “I should say so!” Jack’s mother agreed.

The assignment for the two mothers was to clean out the kitchen well enough to be able to prepare all the meals for this crew of twelve kids and adults for the weekend, with the boxes of groceries that they had brought with them. I admired the way they approached things: no moaning or groaning; they just started in. They had brought some cleaning supplies, and we found some old mops and brooms there and went to it. We started by pulling down dirty cobwebs. As it turned out, the spiders making the webs were among the smallest creatures we had to worry about. Mice and rats were everywhere, even in the stove; bats hung from the ceilings; and raccoons, skunks, and rattlesnakes lived under the house. When the girls first came upon mice nests, they squealed.

“Oh, we have to go get the boys to come and kill the mice!” they yelled.

My mother and I looked at each other. We lived on a chicken ranch and frequently had to kill mice in the feed bins. We grabbed sticks of wood and stepped up and bopped the mice: big gray ones, and little wiggly pink ones. The girls stood back and watched dumbfounded. We were called on many more times that weekend, and I didn’t know if I should feel honored or disgraced.

The kitchen was long and narrow, with the big black wood stove taking up most of the west wall. When we reached the stove, we found large kettles sitting on the stove with big metal stirring spoons in them, and one had a layer of burned beans in the bottom - again, as if the people had left in a hurry.

“Let’s go start on the dining room,” I said, wanting to get away from this spooky stuff. “OK,” Ann responded. More cobwebs, more dirt.

“Look,” Ann said, “there are still dishes on the tables, and silverware and cups, too, and look how the chairs are all pushed back helter skelter, like the people all jumped up and left in a hurry.”

“Yeah,” I said, “and left the beans to burn.”

I pulled down a few more cobwebs with my broom and made my way to the nearest table. “Look,” I said, “there’s still old dried up coffee in the bottoms of these cups.” We called the others to come and look. I wondered if the ghosts of those people were still hanging around here somewhere.

We fell silent as we continued pulling down cobwebs, and carried the dishes from the dining room to the kitchen sink. The moms had cleaned out the stove, built a fire, and had water heating in big kettles for cleaning and washing dishes. We looked around some more. The dining room walls were covered with proof pages from old newspapers that had been painted a light color, and the ceilings were very high and made of pressed tin. Out back we found two wash tubs full of clothes, the clothing dried hard and crisp in positions they would have been when under water. The mystery continued to build. We labored hard that whole weekend: mopping, scrubbing walls and tables, washing dishes, pots, pans and silverware, and then starting over and washing and scrubbing away more layers of dirt, but all the while pondering the mystery.

Later, the boys found a casket under an array of junk beneath the dorm. The pleated white satin lining was pressed way down, wrinkled, and stained, as if it had been used, perhaps more than once. Were people buried here somewhere? A chill ran down my spine.

The boys worked on, pruning the jungle of shrubbery and vines that grew up over everything, including the windows, and they also made a safe trail around the ranch house and down to the dormitory. We were all 14-16 years old, and much more interested in the opposite sex than in anything else. I was so attracted to Jack that I didn’t think about much else. But we worked hard and had a good time, too.

Jim Senter, the Sebastopol minister, encouraged the girls and boys to sing back and forth to each other, and started contests to see who could get their jobs done first. The time passed quickly, helped along by choruses of I’ve Been Working on the Railroad, Someone’s in the Kitchen with Dinah, and She’ll be Comin’ ‘round the Mountain When She Comes.

We ate in the ranch house dining room, sharing stories of the burnt beans, the dishes on the tables, and the casket under the dorm. We didn’t sleep in the dormitory rooms, which were still full of belongings, but threw our sleeping bags on the floor in the living room of the dorm where we had built a fire in the big stone fireplace. Fortunately, we had electricity and running water, but no hot water. We pulled off our muddy clothes in the bathroom and dressed in dry clothes to sleep in. Most of us girls wet our hair and rolled it up into pin curls all over our heads, as we did every night, then wrapped them in bandanas to cover the pin curls. We were shy at first about wearing pin curls and bandanas around the boys, but we were all so excited about sleeping in the same room with boys that we got over it quickly. Jim Senter slept with all the kids, well, tried to sleep. He had the boys, who were all on one side of the room, sing Good Night Ladies to the girls, and then the girls, who were all on the other side, sing, Tell Me Why the Stars Do Shine to the boys, and then he settled down to sleep - or to try to sleep. We talked on into the wee hours, scaring each other by making up creepy stories about the people that had lived and maybe died there. We all reveled in this new experience of sleeping together. The adults, except for Jim, slept in the ranch house.

The April Easter Work Camp of youth from all over Northern California went well, and things were readied for summer camps. Thirty-five to forty teens and adults spent a back breaking and soul-searching week. Tools and tack and manure were cleaned out of the barn to prepare it to be the boys’ dorm. City kids that had never used an outhouse were now digging them - “holy holes on the hill.” They had to dispose of old food, garbage, worn old furniture and rugs. They built a huge bonfire in the meadow and threw in old furniture and rugs and everything else that could not be salvaged. Everything was so wet that spring that nobody worried about fire getting out of control. Several weekend antique sales between Easter and summer helped dispose of the good furniture, including dressers, chairs and double beds, many of them Victorian antiques. It was right at the end of World War II, and the money was used to purchase ‘war surplus’ equipment to furnish the rooms and the barn-dorm, including surplus army bunk beds and an old army truck to haul equipment and campers. Victorians were replaced with the army’s best.

The first camp was in June, 1945, with the war still going, and there was still rationing of meat, sugar and gasoline. Every camper had to bring their own plate, cup, bowl, silverware, a pound of sugar, and red ration stamps for meat. The camp staff had arranged with the local butcher to buy the meat, but were stunned when the meat was delivered to camp on the hoof, six fat steers. They were pastured in the meadow until, one by one, they were butchered and stored in the local frozen food locker in Cazadero. Wim Meyer said it just about killed him to order all the beef ground into hamburger or cut into stew, but steak and roast were not camp fare.

Getting to the camp was a bit more challenging for some than for others. The Greyhound bus dropped off campers, crew, and ministers at the Pink Elephant bar in Monte Rio. People could wait on the bench in front for pick-up by the old stake-sided army truck. They rode in back up the long, dusty, twisting road. Campers were surprised to find out that there was a telephone at the camp located in the kitchen. The single uninsulated wire was strung to the town of Cazadero (about 7 miles) from one tree to another, on porcelain insulators. It was a 20-party line, that ran through the meat market in Cazadero. The butcher mediated arguments about who got the party line next.

During that first summer, the boys slept in the barn and the girls slept in Redwood Lodge. Early on the first day of summer camp, the cook sighted a rattlesnake just outside the kitchen door. She hurriedly honked the emergency horn and all the crew members came running. A crew member killed the rattle snake, and tried to calm the campers that had gathered.

That night there was a fire in Cazadero and all the male crew and staff went off down the hill in the old army truck, with their backpack pumps and McCloud tools (oversized half hoe and half rake) to fight the fire. The crew had been trained in operating the backpack pumps, which were tanks of water carried on the back equipped with a hand pump. They came back in the wee hours.

With morning light, a crew member reported that the septic tank was running over, and everyone was very glad for the “holy holes on the hill.” That was enough for the cook, who quit and left before breakfast. Wim Meyer called Ivy Alexander, a camper’s mom, and she came to the rescue from Antioch as a temporary cook and stayed for seven years!

During that first camp and for many years after, right after breakfast at 9 a.m., the bell rang and we all reported to our station for “Caz Care.” For an hour, campers worked on trails and new cabins, hoed or weeded the vegetable garden, dug the swimming pool, worked on the road, helped dig fire breaks with McCloud tools, peeled potatoes and whatever else needed doing. There was a crew of college kids who stayed all summer, working around the camp and in the kitchen, supervising groups of campers. They also directed Caz Care.

Platoons of volunteers dug the first swimming pool. Before it, campers had to hike down to Bearpen dam for a swim. By the time you hiked back to camp, you were hotter and dirtier than when you started. And, yes, the lady bugs were at Bearpen in 1945 and had to be skimmed off before anyone could swim. They made swimming rather unpleasant, and they have been there ever since.

Wim Meyer, the Conference Youth Minister, later did some asking around to try to find out what had happened at the Ollie Bradley Truth Rest Home and why they had all left so suddenly and never come back. Nobody really seems to know, but this is the theory they came up with: Morhardt Ridge, southeast of Camp, shows signs of a big fire in the then-recent years. Perhaps the fire came down near our spring and into Redwood Glen before it was put out or burned out. If you walk over there even now you can find burned trees. Naturally Ed Morhardt, the real estate agent who was trying to sell the property, did not want to scare off buyers, and did not dwell on that fire. But who knows, when the residents saw the flames cover over the ridge, they may have panicked and caused them to flee on a moment’s notice to get as far away as possible. But it is still a mystery why nobody ever came back, even to recover their most personal possessions. We will probably never know what really happened.

People gave generously of time and money to make Caz a success. The Conference gave honor by naming cabins after these people. In those early days, building new cabins was the greatest need and there were work parties nearly every weekend. One could just go up to Caz, bring a sleeping bag and some food and go to work. Myron Alexander (Ivy's husband) was a volunteer carpenter from Antioch, who built many of the cabins, and taught many a camper, minister, staffer, and parent how to drive a nail or build a stair step. As a result there is a cabin named Alexander. The Haymond Cabin was named after Scott, the volunteer architect who drew the plans for the cabins, and his wife Laura, the girls’ supervisor at Caz for many years.

When the first round of cabins began to age, new winterized cabins were constructed with an eye to possible year-round use. The Sebastopol Community Church received the honor of naming a new cabin because they contributed the most money to the cabin building fund ($30,000). The church held a “Naming Contest.” Some wanted to name it the “Eshelman” cabin, after Byron and Anne, our members who had attended Caz Camp more years than anyone else and had done so much to make the camp a success. There is a famous snapshot of Byron, stripped to the waist, digging the swimming pool with a shovel. They declined the honor, saying it should be named something more long-lasting than a person’s name. “Koinonia,” a New Testament word for “Christian Community,” won the contest. At a naming ceremony, Byron and Anne Eshelman nailed the new name plaque on the cabin.

Harley Gill Lodge, built in 1957, was named after the 1932-1950 Conference Superintendent. He was in office when Caz was first being considered, and from the descriptions he heard, he was not enthusiastic. When he and his wife came up and visited in person, however, he became a staunch supporter.

Cazadero is a Spanish word that means, “The Hunting Ground.” In its past, it has seen many people hunting deer, wild boar and other game. Now it has gone through different years, and seen hundreds of campers of all ages from infants to octogenarians hunting for something different. We are a people hunting for a closer relationship to trees, flowers, water, stars, and nature; and a closer relationship to others, inside our families and out. And above all, we are hunting for a closer relationship with God.

Yes, Cazadero is still our Hunting Ground.

The Apple Pie Story

by Ellen Stillman

In 1972, the Community Church offered to help pay the camp fees for anyone who would like to attend our Family Camp at Camp Caz. So many people signed up that the money available was $200 short of the amount required. It was suggested that if 100 Gravenstein apple pies were donated and sold for $2 each, the problem of financing the camp would be solved. And so the Apple Pies Event at the Community Church of Sebastopol was born.

The first few sales were held at the church and all the pies were baked at individual homes. Then in 1974, several people thought it would be more efficient, and much more fun to bake the pies in the church kitchen, thereby laying waste to only one kitchen and oven instead of many. A pickup truck filled with apples was backed up to the kitchen door and several young people were drafted to do the peeling, while inside the kitchen volunteers rolled, trimmed, crimped crusts and baked pies. One hundred and ten pies were baked in the church kitchen that year.

Thereafter, a small group, always assisted by the young people peeling furiously to rock music in the parking lot, gathered to make pies together at the Community Church. By 1974, 155 pies were made in the church kitchen. Some of those pies had to travel in the trunks of cars to be baked in home ovens as the church ovens could’t keep up with the demand. Another 275 pies were made in individual homes. Those who could not bake pies donated sugar, flour and shortening. That year we showed a profit of $1,556.75.

In 1975, 275 pies were made at church and another 226 came from homes with a profit that year of $1,755. The pie event was a hit and there was no turning back!

In 1979 the Gravenstein Apple Fair came to Ragle Park and the pie sales moved to the park and on to greater challenges. This was the first year we went to the cannery to buy our apples by the barrel, already cored and peeled. Some very efficient equipment was donated, some purchased, and with some very creative minds, devices were invented and constructed to streamline the pie making process to make it more productive. The Fair gave the Community Church exclusive rights to apple pie sales with the caveat that we must not run out of pies! So for several years the threat of losing our exclusive concession drove us to Herculean production efforts! In 1989 we baked 2,346 pies for a profit of $8,415. However, there were 270 pies left over which the Farm Trails agreed to purchase from us.

Since that time, the Gravenstein Apple Fair has allowed other venders to sell apple pastries and pies and we were no longer obligated to have pies available through the end of the fair.

Some very nice amenities have been added to our apple pies event – the hot dog BBQ lunch for all workers on Friday and Saturday, our new fair booth, wonderful new signs to advertise the sale, and sales from our Memorial Hall, which are clear profit as they do not have to be reported to Farm Trails. The production process has become more and more streamlined and efficient because of innovative ideas from talented members of our church community.

Countless hours have been contributed by hundreds of people of all generations to make the apple pie event a success each year. Many friendships have been forged over pans of apple peels! Through our apple pies event, hundreds of youth and families have received an “Apple Pie Scholarships” to help offset fees for summer camp and our Family Camp at Camp Cazadero. Our Gravenstein Apple Pies continue as a significant outreach program for our church and wider community.

More than 50 Years with the Community Church

by Margarette Murakami

At a time when our country was just recovering from the destruction of WWII, our family of three returned to Sebastopol after three years of internship in Colorado. My four brothers were serving in the army overseas – two in Europe and two in the Pacific and were not here to help my parents and I start life over again in Sebastopol. The First Congregation Church on Main Street (now the Community Church of Sebastopol), was one of the first churches to recognize the unjust treatment of Americans of Japanese descent.

My brother Peter was killed while serving his country and when his body was returned from France, my father wanted to hold a memorial service in Sebastopol before the military burial in San Bruno. Rev. Senter, the pastor of the First Congregational Church, graciously performed the service.

During these difficult years, this church continued to reach out to help the returning Japanese-Americans. One day during break at Analy High School, a new friend, Marilyn Leikam, invited me to attend her church, the First Congregational Church. Mrs. Steadman, the superintendent of Sunday School asked if I would help Mrs. Bollinger in her Sunday School class since I had attended and helped with Sunday School during my time in camp. It was 1946 and that is how I first became involved with what would later become the Community Church of Sebastopol.

During the time Rev. Keeble was minister, Mrs. Dorothy McKenzie (later to become Dorothy McHugh) encouraged me to attend the Pilgrim Fellowship youth program. Her son, Bruce McKenzie, was kind enough to make sure I had a ride to the Sunday evening meetings. During these meetings we learned the importance of attending Sunday church services and took responsibility for developing our own youth worship services – everything from picking the hymns, the scripture and delivering a youth sermon. We all found this very interesting and it had a tremendous influence our lives. Many years later, in part due to our youth program, two of our young people became ministers – Bruce and Rod McKenzie.

It was’t until many years later that I learned of the group of young people from this church who stepped up to protect the Enmanji Buddhist Temple from vandalism. This courageous group of youth provided a 24-hour vigil at the Temple for more than a month. Some of those youth I came to know as members of this church – Jack Gerboth and Sara Garrison Gerboth, Bruce and Doug McKenzie, Lois Borba, Peggy and Bob Martz, Novella Harper Robert, Clayton Baughman, Dave Williams and Barbara Wright Bertoli.

In 1972 Jack and Sara decided that an Apple Pie sale could benefit the camp scholarship fund. The pies were made in our homes and sold at church and we were thrilled that we made over $300! The pies became such a success and the project was expanded to make and bake the pies in Fellowship Hall, still all by hand. Then the convection ovens were added and Lloyd Lerum adapted a pizza maker to roll out the pie crust. All that allowed us to really go into production, a tradition that continues to this day.

By the time I retired and became involved with Women’s Fellowship, Rev. Nelson was at the helm. Norma Taddeucci and I joined Women’s Fellowship together, renewed old friendships and met new friends. Harriet Jacobson was such a big influence on Women’s Fellowship – she saw to every detail including making sure we pre warmed the carafes to insure the coffee stayed hot! Women’s Fellowship is proud of our contributions to the church and we continue to be the only committee to make a yearly pledge to support the church operating budget.

The Pilgrim Fellowship youth programs were very important to me as a student and the same is true for my oldest grandson. Michael spent 6 years in our youth programs and found the experiences to be very valuable. He is now serving as one of our Youth Leaders.

During the many years my family has had a relationship with the Community Church (now into the 4th generation) our family has been blessed by this very special, passionate and giving church.

Burbank Heights

In 1974, a Sebastopol City Manager and some folks from The Community Church of Sebastopol had a dream. . . a dream of affordable housing for seniors in Sebastopol. There was a piece of property just off Bodega Avenue, near the cemetery, owned by Mrs. Luther Burbank. Don Dowd from The Community Church and Mel Davis, then City Manager, began discussions with Mrs. Burbank. At the same time, the city began discussions with HUD to gain financing.

When Mrs. Burbank agreed to sell the property, Don Dowd put up his own money in order to guarantee the sale. HUD required a non-profit organization to work with the city and form a Board of Directors for the project, so The Community Church and its pastor, Rev Phil Anderson, and the United Methodist Church and its pastor, Rev. Elmer Podall, agreed to join with the city in sponsoring the new development, which would be named Burbank Heights. Don Dowd became president of the new board and construction began in June, 1974.

In April, 1975, Burbank Heights opened with 138 units of affordable senior housing, with a board consisting of three members from The Community Church, three from the Methodist Church, and one at large member from the community. Both churches continue to be represented on the Board.

And in 1992, under the leadership of board president, Larry Duffield, Burbank Orchards was constructed – an additional 60 units of housing for low to very low income seniors.

God is Still Speaking

The Rev. Peter Jansen served The First Congregational Church of Sebastopol from 1961-1969. On April 23, 1961 the church voted to affiliate with the United Church of Christ (merger of Congregational/Evangelical & Reformed, June 1957). On June 4, 1961, Rev. Jansen led the first worship service and Service of Dedication in the newly completed Fellowship Hall. The 75th Anniversary of the church was held on September 13, 1964.

On November 19, 1967, Rev. Jansen led the first worship service in the new sanctuary. The following letter is from the 1964 Seventy-Fifth Anniversary Church Directory.

From the Clergy:

Through three-quarters of a century the First Congregational Church of Sebastopol has spoken about God and His Christ. The Bible truths have been learned. But more than lip-service has been given to our Faith. The history printed here is inspiration only as it stirs us in our time to live the Christian Way. Ours is a continuing quest. We ask to be kept straight in our direction, and we join all seekers in the wondrous adventure, knowing that God still speaks, and that we can obey.


Peter J. Jansen


Historical Profile on Rev. George Ernet Atkinson

by Jane Huneke

It is my pleasure to introduce you to the Reverend George Atkinson who pastured our church from 1929 to 1942. He was my paternal grandfather. George was born in 1872 in Sholapur, India, of Congregational missionary parents. They returned to the States when George was eight years old. He graduated from Grinnell College in 1895 and Pacific Theological Seminary (later named PSR) with his ordination in 1898.

His first parish was in Takoa, Washington. In 1901 he brought his bride Orrill to the mining camps west of Weed, California, to become the itinerant minister to Etna, Callahan, Ft. Jones, and Sawyers Bar. He served the church in Campbell during the 1906 earthquake and also served churches in Martinez and Ceres. During WWI he worked for the YMCA as pastor to soldiers being shipped overseas from Bremerton, Washington.

He came to Sebastopol in 1929 and saw the church through the depression and also through the celebration of its Jubilee year (50th anniversary). He wrote poems and put many of them to the music of popular hymns. These were sung in churches throughout the national denomination. While in Sebastopol he was on the Board of the Chamber of Commerce, headed the Red Cross, and directed the Sebastopol Boy Scouts. He was known by the nickname “Dad Atkinson” because of people’s fondness of him. North of Andy’s Market there is Atkinson Road. I like to think that it was named after him, but have no history on that.

George handed in his letter of resignation in 1942 due to failing eye sight. He’d been a pastor for 44 years and 12 years at the Sebastopol church. He invited his friend, a Conference Minister, to preach for him and join in the festivities of his retirement. As the congregation gathered on that final Sunday, however, they heard his eulogy instead as he had died from a heart attack the day before.

The Hallberg Organ

by Barbara Wilson

Rev. Peter Jansen was a dedicated minister, uniquely gifted to serve the congregation into the new era of church expansion. Throughout the 1960’s, he envisioned not only a beautiful sanctuary to grace the new church property, but that it needed to house a genuine pipe organ. This was no small dream! A chamber for the pipes themselves, as well as all of the electrical system for the blowers, had to be designed as part of the architect’s drawings. One can imagine that there were some in the congregation who stated bluntly that such an addition was unnecessary, too ‘high-church’, or just plain foolish.

Verna Tischer, who had been the organist for our church (1951-53) was asked to return as church organist and consultant during these planning stages in 1966. Through her affiliation with the American Guild of Organists, Verna was familiar with organ designers and builders, as well as being friends with prominent organists. With her assistance, the organ committee was able to decide on an instrument that would be built to fit specifically the size and needs of our new sanctuary.

The Mohler Organ Co. received the contract. It was to have 14-ranks, with two manuals and a full pedal board. When installed, it was the largest pipe organ in Sonoma County. The cost was about $40,000. The organ was donated through the great generosity of Oscar and Esther Hallberg, in memory of their families who had been important to the church since its beginnings.

The new Sanctuary was dedicated on November 19, 1967. However, the organ could not be completed in time for the dedication. A baby grand piano was lent for the new sanctuary by Alethea Read, mother of the choir director. The piano bridged the gap until the new organ was installed in April 1968.

Verna also arranged for a year of special concerts to introduce this wonderful new instrument to the entire county. These recitals were very well attended. Through the diversity of the repertoire that was offered, many people came to realize the potential presented through an organ of this size and complexity.

One problem was discovered after the organ was installed. The choir actually sat ‘behind’ the organ sound. With great effort the sound system was amended so that the choir could hear the organ.

The only addition to the organ has been a set of chimes. These can also be played through the sound system into the courtyard. In addition, there were lights installed in the pipe chamber which is behind the large cross over the communion table. When they are lit, one can see many of the inner workings.

We are much indebted to Joyce Morrow for her years of service at the organ. After Verna Tischer retired in 1975 due to ill health, Joyce played faithfully every Sunday with very few vacations until her death early in 2007. In 2003 she composed a Cantata for choir, soloists, bells and organ, incorporating the libretto written by Gail Thomas. In Joyce’s own words, “the roll of the organist is to provide musical support for congregational singing, choir accompaniment and for liturgical passages during the worship service. The music thus provided is to enhance worship and praise.”

Notes From the Diary of the Rev. C.C. Kirtland (1897-1901)

Notes below are from the first full-time minister, the Rev. C.C. Kirtland (1897-1901). The excerpts are from his diary provided by his daughter, Mrs. Gentry of Monterey Ca.

  • April 8, 1897 Accepted the call to become pastor of the Congregational Church of Sebastopol. The salary to be $800.00 per year.
  • May 1, 1897 Left S.F. 3:30, arrived Sebastopol 6:30. A delegation of 10 or 12 met me at the train. I went to the home of Dr. Hulbert where I am to live.
  • May 2, 1897 Preached in the morning to a full house. In the evening the house was packed.
  • June 1897-1899 Records of Pastoral calls, bicycle calls and buying a horse and buggy. Records of daily routine, social affairs, sermons and meetings. One or two references to Church Building Fund.
  • May 2, 1900 Drove to Santa Rosa. Talked to Mr. Kirby, architect concerning church building.
  • May 6, 1900 Preached Text Ps. 127:1. It was an anniversary sermon being the beginning of my fourth year as a pastor of the Sebastopol Church. I urged the need of a new church and called a meeting of the Church for next Wednesday night to consider it.
  • May 9, 1900 After a brief prayer, we turned to the business of church building. The sketch plans which Mr. Kirby had drawn were considered and discussed and changes made. The Church voted to build. Mr. George McFarlane and Mr. Alex Ragle were appointed as a building committee. The outlook seems bright.
  • May 19, 1900 Received plans and specifications for proposed Church from Mr. Kirby.
  • May 21, 1900 Paid the tax on our Church lots: $1.85.
  • May 23, 1900 The rough estimate which the architect made on our plans for new church was $4,000.00. This was far beyond our means, so having conferred with two of our building committee, I went to Santa Rosa and had another conference with the architect. We cut things down considerably and he thinks now he can get it within the limit between $2,000.00 and $2,500.00.
  • May 31, 1900 Instructed Mr. Kirby to go ahead and make permanent plans. Arranged to hold Sunday services in Oddfellows Hall while constructing church. Mid-week meetings at different homes.
  • September 23, 1900 Laid corner stone for our new church in afternoon. In corner stone was placed the minutes of the meetings held in which we voted to build, etc., and the consideration of plans. Also a copy of each of our papers "The Analy Blanchard" and "The Sebastopol Times". Also a copy of the papers made out deeding the lot which is now a part of the extention (sic) of South Main Street which was first purchased by the church and deeded in trust to Mr. E. W. Hayden.
  • February 3, 1901 - Sunday We held services in our new church for the first time today. Members of the congregation cleaned the whole building, placed the seats and put carpet down.

Historical Notes

One of the most cherished shrines in America is that spot on the New England shore where our forefathers first knelt to give thanks to God for their deliverance from the dangers both physical and spiritual. In just such a way the early churches of each community in America have become shrines, not necessarily marked by stones, or columns, or plaques, but by the living, compelling affection in human hearts. The history of the old church is the foundation of the new, and each new church is built in memory and honor of the old, thus becoming in itself a shrine to the past, and a living symbol of the future.

---from a brief history of The First Congregational Church of Sebastopol, by Josephine Darrow Duffield, historian, 1956

In the 1880s Congregationalists in and around the village of Sebastopol either went to the Green Valley Congregational Church or attended other churches. On July 26,1889, a group of Congregationalists met to take the necessary preliminary steps toward forming a church in Sebastopol. Nineteen people "signified their wish to unite in forming such church." Invitations were sent to neighboring churches to unite with the new church in council to be held in Barnes Hall on August 9, 1889, to recognize the church. Ministers from the Pacific Theological Seminary (Oakland) and the Petaluma and Santa Rosa Congregational Churches conducted the organizational service. The sermon was preached by Rev. J.K. Harrison from the Santa Rosa Congregational Church; he took II Kings 3:16-17 as his text. The congregation took up a collection and sang five hymns during the service: "Come Thou Almighty King", "Jesus Shall Reign", "Blest Be the Tie", "Laborers of Christ Arise", and "More Love to Thee".

--from God's Unfinished Symphony, by Joyce Duffield Morrow, organist and historian, 1989

Our Special Ark Sculpture

Early in the year, 2004, Patrick Amiot approached Brian Purcell with a proposal that he create one of his unique sculptures for the church. Patrick admired what our church did in the community and wanted to do something for us. Patrick suggested a cross. Brian called me and he and Patrick and I had a meeting. We discussed the idea of a cross, but together wondered if there might be something else that would more lend itself to Patrick’s unique talents. Thus it was that the idea of an ark was born. Patrick loved the idea, the church council loved the idea, and we were off and running. And interesting part of the project was Patrick’s invitation to church members to contribute pots, pans, used appliances, etc., that could be used in the sculpture. Patrick had to charge us for some of his costs – an ark was a bit more complicated than a cross – but he donated most of his work.


Tom Dilley put together a crew of willing men to pour a concrete pad and move the ark from Patrick’s studio on Florence Avenue to the church. The day of the move dawned wet and windy – rather appropriate for an ark when you think about it. Our faithful crew grunted and groaned, but eventually moved it onto Tom’s trailer. The covered ark then sailed slowly up Hwy 116 to the church, a task well worth a few pulled muscles.

The sculpture was moved into place and then on Launch Sunday, with the sun shining and with a very sick Patrick in attendance, Sebastopol’s newest art treasure was unveiled. The ark has become the defining structure on our church campus: “Oh yes, you are the church with the cool ark in front.”

Even construction of Pilgrim Center had to consider…”What about the Ark?” During construction, the ark was moved to Patrick’s new studio south of town, a move again orchestrated by Tom, and was completely repainted and repaired by Patrick. Thanks to Guy Smith’s equipment, the second coming of the ark was a lot less physically challenging. Interestingly, early in the construction of Pilgrim Center, the most asked question of Rev. Nelson was not, “what are you building?” but rather, “What did you do with the ark?”

Our Stained Glass Window

The stained glass window in this church was made by Hogan Stained Glass Studios from Los Gatos, California in 1967. It was constructed in basically the same manner as those made in the twelfth century churches of Europe. Hand blown glass was used and bound by 'came lead', however, painting and firing have been omitted to allow the color to show its full intensity.

stained glass

The basic design and overlapping shapes seemed complimentary to the architecture and tend to unify the design through the two main divisions.

The shape itself suggested the overall theme: In the top section, (1) the hand of God is emitting a (2) flow of Grace (as indicated by the central yellow area) to the (3) Holy Spirit in the form of a Dove in the center section. This flow (4) continues toward the bottom where man (5) is depicted in his environment. The shapes of trees (6) and a man are suggested rather than stated because they are not a particular tree or person, but anyone and everyone who receives this flow of Grace. The brown shape (7), in turn, symbolizes a unified whole. Find a colored picture of the stained glass window here. (PDF)

The design is in keeping with contemporary standards, and contains a degree of both complexity and ambiguity. Hopefully this will cause you, as the observer, to pause and wonder about the beauty and its related mysteries found in God’s world.

This information was taken from church history papers, author unknown.