St. Andrew United Church of Christ began in an empty storefront along Gateway Avenue in the Gulf Gate community of Sarasota, its neighbor a veterinary clinic.
The first service held on July 25, 1965, found 65 attendees sitting on donated folding chairs and singing from donated hymnals, accompanied by a donated organ. But it was a start.
As a United Church of Christ congregation, St. Andrew UCC affirms a spirit of unity, that we live as kindred in Jesus Christ, and that we are called to live in the world ministering to needs of all, contributing to the welfare of all, and seeking justice and liberation for all. Based on these beliefs, the little church on Gateway Avenue began its ministry.
What to call this new congregation? The membership accepted the new name of St. Andrew United Church of Christ, leaving no doubt it would be a Christian church, a church of sufficient historical background, and one not tied to a geographical location. Its namesake, Andrew, was the first person Jesus called to discipleship (John 1:40-41), one who worked steadily and faithfully in the background to carry out Jesus’ plans. Maybe more importantly, Andrew was known for his warmth and welcoming nature, his love of fellowship, a founding principle at St. Andrew UCC since its inception.
In October of 1965, Rev. James A. Stewart arrived as the founding pastor where he was to serve for 12 more years. By that month the little church had already begun to outgrow its space with an average of 95 attendees each Sunday. Rev. Stewart expressed the thoughts of many as he wrote “St. Andrew United Church of Christ is only a little church, but those who attend call it their church. People count here.”
In October, 1966, land was purchased nearby on Beneva Road to begin building of a permanent sanctuary, completed in March 1969. Now there was dedicated space for Church School, Fellowship suppers, meetings, and weddings, the first held on June 21 of that year. St. Andrew UCC finally had a permanent home and began its tenure as an anchor in the Gulf Gate community where it serves today as meeting space for local organizations, honoring its commitment to contribute to the welfare of all.
Nine years later, in 1974, a Memorial Garden was completed on the site, a place of meditation and beauty to honor those who have gone on before. Laid out as a clock face, the interment sites are surrounded by live oaks and flowering shrubs, offering those who enter a space of peace and serenity.
Ever growing, ever expanding through the 1970’s, St. Andrew UCC again needed more space. On November 4, 1984, a new sanctuary was completed adjacent to the original which now served as a fellowship hall, later named Stewart Hall in honor of the founding pastor. Sitting atop the Italian Box roof, visible above the treetops along Beneva Road, stands the UCC symbol of cross and crown, a sign of welcome to all.
Amid growing pains, the members of St. Andrew UCC have dedicated themselves to service within the church and in the surrounding community. Missions include involvement in social issues of homelessness, unemployment, wage equity, affordable housing, and participation in SURE (Sarasota United for Responsibility and Equity), an ecumenical coalition of area churches. In 2005, St. Andrew was awarded the official designation as an Open and Affirming church by the UCC Open and Affirming Coalition, signifying that our church welcomes members of the LGBT community into the full life and leadership of the church.
St. Andrew UCC, in 2015, celebrated its 50th anniversary. In 2017, the members continue to dedicate themselves to growth, renewal, mission, stewardship, and celebration of who we are and from where we have come (and where we are headed!), a church based on the belief that “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you’re welcome here.”
Pastors of St. Andrew United Church of Christ
March 2017 – Present: Rev. Paul Werner
September 2015 – March 2017: Rev. Greg Russell (interim)
July 2006 – August 2015: Rev. Phil Garrison
July 2004 – June 2006: Rev. Joe LaDu (interim)
November 2003 – May 2004: Rev. Armin Bizer (interim)
June 2001 – October 2003: Rev. Philip White
January 2000 – June 2001: Rev. Donald Henderson (interim)
April 1996 – December 1999: Rev. Doreen McFarlane
December 1982 – April 1996: Rev. Dr. Paul Binder
January 1982 – November 1982: Rev. Robert Kellerman (interim)
February 1978 – October 1981: Rev. Waldemar Haupt
August 1977 – February 1978: Rev. Robert Kellerman (interim)
1966 – 1977: Rev. James A. Stewart