A Brief History of
Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church
By the mercy of Almighty God, Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Bronx, New York, was founded in 1928.
Members of St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Yonkers who lived in the Wakefield section of the Bronx in New York City believed that they could, by God’s grace, start a mission east of the Woodlawn Cemetery instead of traveling south and then west over the 233rd Street Bridge to get to St. Mark’s for worship services. The first worship service for Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church was conducted in the afternoon on Sunday, April 15, 1928 in a rented storefront at 686 237th Street, just west of White Plains Road in The Bronx, New York City. The Rev. Adolf Meyer, the Pastor of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Yonkers, conducted worship services and served as the founding pastor. The small congregation grew and raised funds to purchase property and an adjacent building at the corner of Barnes and Boyd Avenues, not far from the storefront on 237th Street. A portable church building was assembled in 1929 on the purchased property, and The Rev. William Bruening was installed as the first pastor.
The original church building had no pews and no undercroft. Folding chairs were used, and the church building served the dual purpose of providing space for worship services as well as for social gatherings when a curtain was drawn carefully to conceal the altar area during those events. Pastor Bruening and his family lived on the second and third floors of the adjacent building that was purchased and expanded by the congregation. The first floor of that building was enlarged and converted into a parish hall and used for Sunday School classes, confirmation classes and a Boy Scout troop. Today, that building is called, “The Parish House” (4354 Boyd Avenue).
In 1944, Pastor Bruening accepted a Divine Call to Washington, D.C., and The Rev. Robert Haupt was installed as Redeemer’s second pastor on January 7, 1945.
The congregation continued growing, not only gathering for worship services but also having a thriving Sunday School, Senior Choir, Junior Choir, Walther League (youth group), Married Couples’ Club, Women’s Guild, Men’s Group, and much more.
In the 1940s, money was raised to build the present beautiful edifice where worship services and ministries are conducted currently. The cornerstone was laid in 1950 for the new church building. During construction, worship services were held at the Wakefield Theater, a local movie house, until the new church edifice was completed. Interestingly, the old portable church building was disassembled, transported and re-erected in Putnam Valley, New York, where St. Luke’s Lutheran Church uses it for worship to this day. An addition to Redeemer’s new building was added in 1964 that includes the current parish office, pastor’s study, a lower level room called “The Green Room” (later remodeled and renamed “The Wittrock Room”) and an upstairs library called “The Gold Room” (later remodeled and renamed “The Catechist Rosa Room.”). These years were years of great numerical growth for many Lutheran congregations in the United States of America and Redeemer benefitted from that post-war boom.
During Pastor Haupt’s pastorate, a parsonage was purchased on Marion Avenue in Mount Vernon, New York. Pastor Haupt accepted a Divine Call to Smithtown, Long Island in 1963. The Rev. Donald Heitner accepted the Divine Call to serve as Redeemer’s pastor and served from 1964 to June of 1967. The Wakefield section of The Bronx was experiencing significant socio-cultural and economic transitions during this era. After Pastor Heitner’s pastoral service at Redeemer, the Mount Vernon parsonage was sold. In 1969, the Rev. Theodore Wittrock accepted the Divine Call to be Redeemer’s fourth pastor and was installed by The Rev. Dr. Rudolph P. F. Ressmeyer, the President of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) Atlantic District, on January 16, 1969.
Previous to his service at Redeemer, Pastor Wittrock had served as the Executive Director of the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau. As many of Redeemer’s ethnic European members moved from the Wakefield community to the suburbs of New York City and elsewhere, new people from diverse cultural backgrounds came to Wakefield. Many urban parishes did not adjust well to similar changes, but, by God’s grace, Redeemer did. This was in great part due to the Spirit-inspired love and devotion of Pastor Wittrock, his family, and the many dedicated laypeople of Redeemer who welcomed newcomers of every race, ethnicity and culture. The high regard of the Wittrock family for Redeemer and the people of The Bronx remained strong as Pastor Wittrock served as a VicePresident of the LCMS Atlantic District, a Regent for Concordia College New York during his pastorate, and a mentor to many pastors. Redeemer and Pastor Wittrock also were involved in the Planning Association of Bronx Lutheran Churches (PABLC), a pan-Lutheran organization intended to address the needs of congregations in The Bronx in changing times and to embrace ways of working together.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Redeemer remained a beacon of hope in the north Bronx, hosting square dances, potluck suppers, congregational dinners, talent shows, “Festa Italiana” dinners, “Broadway in The Bronx,” Sunday School teachers’ and volunteers’ dinners, and other events, in addition to the many baptisms, confirmations, weddings and funerals with music from the Senior Choir, Junior Choir and Guitar Choir. Pastor Wittrock also hosted The Bronx Lutheran pastors once a week for lunch, study of the Scriptures, and mutual encouragement. In addition to these, the Sunday School remained a strong focus for the parish, welcoming new young people and their families to the congregation. Redeemer’s work with the Wakefield Taxpayers and Civic League, the Wakefield Patrol, Al Anon, Overeaters Anonymous, AARP, the 47th Precinct Community Council and other groups demonstrated this ongoing and stable Christian witness in The Bronx. By God’s grace, Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church in The Bronx had become a multicultural, multi-ethnic, multi-generational congregation.
To celebrate the parish’s 70th anniversary, Redeemer made many building repairs and renovations, including the conversion of the former “Green Room” to “The Wittrock Room” in honor of The Rev. Theodore and Lenore Wittrock. The parish also identified areas of focus for the future, including concerted effort for work with young people. Pastor Wittrock retired in January of 2000 on his eightieth birthday and was named “Pastor emeritus.”
In 2004, as a part of the 75th anniversary celebration that was themed, “Jesus Christ Is the Same Yesterday, Today and Forever,” Boyd Avenue was renamed, “Rev. Theodore Wittrock Crossing,” in honor of the then late Pastor Wittrock. The street was dedicated by the President of The Lutheran Church— Missouri Synod, the Rev. Dr. Gerald B. Kieschnick. A father for many in the neighborhood, Pastor Wittrock’s legacy of love for all people transformed the lives of countless people as his influence continues to be extolled by many to this day.
The Rev. Dien Ashley Taylor accepted the Divine Call to be Redeemer’s fifth pastor and was installed on Good Shepherd Sunday in 2001. He continues to serve as our pastor to this day. Pastor Taylor brought new energy to Redeemer with worship attendance doubling in fewer than two years. Our Lord guided many people to Redeemer during Vacation Bible School that was reintroduced in August of 2001. He also led many people to our parish after the horrific events of 9/11; our Sunday School theme for that year, “God’s People Pray,” became a parish motto and helped people appreciate and treasure this unique contribution that the Body of Christ offers a sinful world.
Much of the growth at Redeemer has included young people seeking the Lord’s love in His Word and Sacraments who desire to be part of the Body of Christ. At Redeemer, every Liturgy is a “youth Liturgy” as young people are involved intentionally in appropriate ways.
Moreover, many also are participating in various parish activities. At the invitation of The Rev. Dr. David H. Benke, the President of the LCMS Atlantic District, Redeemer’s Youth Choir both opened the Atlantic District Convention and received a standing ovation in July, 2003 and sang at the 100th Anniversary Banquet of the Atlantic District in June, 2006. To celebrate our parish’s 75th anniversary, Redeemer began Homework Help, an after-school tutorial program, in the same spirit of outreach that characterized Redeemer’s founding.
During our 75th anniversary celebration, we were delighted to welcome The Rev. William Meyer, the son of our founding pastor, to preach during festival Liturgies. We also were thrilled to have The Rev. Dr. Gerald B. Kieschnick, the President of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, preach at other festival liturgies during our 75th anniversary celebration.
Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church continued to grow by God’s grace. In 2001, there was one Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist that was conducted on Sundays at 11AM. As the congregation has grown, there are four weekly Liturgies: Saturdays at 7PM; Sundays at 8AM; Sundays at 11AM; and Wednesdays at 7:30PM. In addition to that, the 10AM Friday Morning Bible Study begins with the Holy Eucharist as do meetings of parish auxiliaries, offering people many opportunities to receive Christ’s Body and Blood. There are many weeks at Redeemer when the Holy Eucharist is offered six and seven days a week.
As the congregation has continued to grow, a young adults group, “HEARTS,” (Here, Eager And Ready To Serve) was formed that complements the EYES— Energetic Youth Engaged in Service (Youth Group), WRISTS (formerly the Women’s Guild, which was formerly the Dorcas Society), LIPS (Ladies In Prayer and Service), LEGS (League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in Service) and other entities of the parish as all are using their gifts to tell the Good News about Jesus.
In addition to organ and piano music, we have been blessed with choirs (formerly a junior choir, senior choir, guitar choir, and Adult Gospel Choir and now the Younger Sunday School Choir, the Older Sunday School Choir, the EYES [Energetic Youth Engaged in Service] Youth Choir, and the LUNGS [Lifting Up the Name of God in Song] adult choir), liturgical dance troupes (Soul Stepping Sisters, Divine Rite, Unspoken Word and DIVAS [Dancing In Victory And Song] in the past, and now ARMS [Always Rejoicing in Movement and Song]), many soloists, an instrumental ensemble (EARS [Enthusiastically Adoring our Redeemer in Song]), and percussionists. Music from all over the world enhances our gathering as we celebrate the rich diversity of the Body of Christ in our midst.
Over the years, Redeemer has been blessed with many musicians who have served God’s people, including The Rev. Dr. Oswald Hoffman, Dr. M. Alfred Bischel, Dr. Maura Mitrushina, Mr. Timothy Fink, Mr. Martin Ganshau, Ms Donna Dixon, Mr. Richard Duncan, Ms Joan Harkness, Ms Mary Merle Faulkner, Ms Arlene Oplinger, Ms Ruth Cunningham, Mr. David Greatrix, Mr. James Taglauer, Dr. Edgar Aufdemberg, Mr. Christopher Losee, Ms Allyyssa Kirnon, Mr. Andrew Sandblom, Mr. Kyle Ramroop, Dr. Daniel Leguizamon and The Rev. Dr. Dien Ashley Taylor.
Currently, Dr. Jean Boehler serves as Redeemer’s Cantor, exemplifying an historic understanding of church music leadership and servanthood. As the founder and Director of Arts In MissionNY (AIM) based at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Yonkers, Cantor Boehler’s presence and work further exemplifies Redeemer’s intentional connection with St. Mark’s in these latter years of both parishes’ histories, highlighted not only when Pastor Taylor served as St. Mark’s pastoral vacancy supervisor but when Redeemer paraded from Redeemer to St. Mark’s to celebrate the installation of her husband, The Rev. Robert Boehler, as St. Mark’s Pastor in June of 2009. The Boehler’s participation at Redeemer and Redeemer members’ participation at St. Mark’s through its school (LCMS Commissioned Teacher Dr. LuJuana Butts is a teacher there) and through the ongoing connection with Redeemer through Arts in Mission-NY further strengthens an intentional connection with these two congregations as both embrace ways to reach people in the northern Bronx and southern Westchester with the Gospel together in the years to come.
Our ushers, now named “HANDS” (Helping All to be Neighbors in the Divine Service) continue to welcome new people into the Liturgies. The one-year adult catechumenate and two-year youth catechumenate continue to be ways by which new people are welcomed into this praying community of service.
Rosa Cruz Molina served over nine years as Redeemer’s Catechist, working with Pastor Taylor, as adults were catechized, baptized and confirmed. Private confession with Holy Absolution is offered and embraced at Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church as people grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Weekly fellowship hours after the Liturgies, congregational dinners (many times in different locations because we have outgrown our undercroft), talent shows, trips to religious productions, retreats to Camp Koinonia, worship services on the beach, servant events and other fellowship activities have all been part of Redeemer parish’s life. Bible studies and doctrinal studies on The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church attract many people who desire to grow in their knowledge of Christ and His Holy Church. Redeemer has also been a classroom for seminarians from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis as Pastor Taylor has taught a course and led a cross-cultural module for seminarians to help them prepare for church work in urban contexts. Seminarians and professors from the seminary have spent time at Redeemer to learn ways in which they can serve Christ and His people in our nation’s ever-growing cities. Pastor Taylor continues to serve as an adjunct instructor at Concordia College—New York, Concordia Seminary St. Louis, and Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne. Redeemer was also a classroom for Yale Divinity School student Travis Scholl who was later ordained as a pastor in the LCMS.
Our 80th Anniversary theme, “Witnessing the Living Christ,” gives us an opportunity to reimagine our life as the Body of Christ as we continue to be a parish of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod where “God’s People Pray.” Redeemer congregation is blessed with gifted members who, by God’s grace, dedicate themselves to the mission of Christ Jesus. Our 80th-anniversary celebration included an anniversary banquet and reunion in April 2008; former members of Redeemer attended this event and they were joined by friends of Redeemer, current members of Redeemer, President Gerald B.Kieschnick and President David H.Benke, and Executive Director of the LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations Dr. Samuel Nafzger.
As part of our 80th-anniversary celebration, Redeemer also intentionally assisted many other congregations and organizations in our area. Redeemerspecifically worked with TrinityEvangelical Lutheran Church in the Castle Hill section of The Bronx for a number of years to help that parish to receive and share God’s gifts. As this began, Redeemer was blessed with two interns who worked at Redeemerwith Pastor Taylor and other Redeemermembers from 2009-2010. Matthew R. Gonzalez from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis served as a Vicar at both Redeemer and Trinity. Raquel A. Rojasfrom Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne served as a Deaconess Internat both parishes.
As her internship year concluded and she became eligible for full-time service in the Church, Redeemer extended a Divine Call to Raquel A. Rojas to be our Deaconess. Deaconess Rojas was commissioned and installed on September 19, 2010, by Atlantic District President David H. Benke in the presence of many other pastors, commissioned ministers and laypeople of the Church. Deaconess Rojas continues to serve with Pastor Taylor in a full-time capacity as Redeemer endeavors to continue the work our Lord has given us to do.
As our neighborhood has experienced an influx of speakers of Spanish, our congregation incorporates the Spanish language in hymnody and liturgical rites. Baptisms, weddings, confirmations and funerals have been conducted in Spanish as well as in English as the Gospel of Jesus Christ is shared with many people. Deaconess Rojas and Pastor Taylor have endeavored to teach English speakers Spanish, both in formal learning opportunities and in other settings.
In the tradition of Pastor Wittrock, Pastor Taylor has kept Redeemer connected with the work of the wider Church. He has served as the Assistant to the LCMS Atlantic District Bishop/President and as the District’s First Vice-President. In addition to that, Redeemer continues to have members who serve on boards of directors of other Lutheran entities and has maintained a significant involvement in the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League. Redeemer members have led workshops for the LCMS Atlantic District as Redeemer continues to mentor others through the region.
As the parish has celebrated ten years with Pastor Taylor, the theme was “The Good Shepherd Celebration” as he was installed on Good Shepherd Sunday in 2001. The initiative included Liturgies, concerts and other events in addition to a fundraiser with three goals: supporting a mission a far away, supporting a local mission and supporting the renovation of Redeemer’s Parish House. By the end of the Good Shepherd Celebration year, a $10,000 gift was sent to Concordia College Alabama (where Pastor had been serving as the Chairperson of the Board of Regents), a $5,000 grant was given to Trinity Lutheran Church in Schenectady, New York to support that parish’s ongoing work with people in the neighborhood, and Redeemer’s Parish House living quarters had been renovated.
During the decade following Redeemer’s eightieth anniversary, by God’s grace and mercy, Redeemer continued to be moved by the Holy Spirit to love, serve and lead countless people in the New York Metropolitan Area and beyond. Continuing to grow as a parish, Redeemer celebrates the many parts of our mercy, witness and life together, by emphasizing Redeemer’s mission, “Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church, by God’s grace, is a praying community of service that receives, teaches, celebrates and shares Christ Jesus,” with a further realignment of the names of additional Redeemer auxiliaries emphasizing specific areas of service:
Each auxiliary has increased its outreach through service to various groups: members of EYES make get well cards for sick and shut-ins and decorate velvet crosses for first time guests in addition to performing many other needed tasks around the parish; members of LIPS and WRISTS visit nursing home residents. They also conduct popular activities that attract people of Redeemer and beyond including fish fries, dinner dances, high teas, tag sales, dessert theatres, chancel dramas, concerts and much more. Deaconess Rojas’ work with these auxiliaries and initiation of auxiliaries and groups has helped more people become involved in service. For instance, “Knitted Together” sessions have been used for fellowship as people gather to knit and crochet throws for those unable to come to corporate worship and baptismal napkins for those being baptized.
An interior makeover of Redeemer’s sanctuary was dedicated shortly after its 80th Anniversary celebration, completing the multi-stage interior renovation that was begun with the replacement of the ceiling and the installation of air conditioning. This renovation also has allowed for better seating for those with physical disabilities, better access to the baptismal font and altar, and space for more musicians to lead in worship.
In 2016, Redeemer realized that this effort was God’s providential provisioning for the installation of an Otto Hoffmann 21-rank tracker pipe organ donated to Redeemer by Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Beaumont, Texas.
Dedicated as the Suehs Memorial Pipe Organ in Texas and used by that parish until that parish closed, the pipe organ was dismantled, transported, refurbished, improved, and dedicated at Redeemer with the name, Theodora, in thanksgiving to our Lord who brings all good gifts and in thanksgiving for Redeemer’s fourth spiritual leader, Pastor Theodore Wittrock. This treasured act of God’s grace augmented Redeemer’s music program that consists of several ensembles spanning multiple generations and facilitated Redeemer’s intentional nurturing of young musicians and encouraging them to share their musical gifts in honor of our Lord. It also has helped connect Redeemer with the saints of the former Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Beaumont, Texas, facilitating Redeemer’s monetary collections to aid people in that region after a severe hurricane.
The Rev. Dr. John R. Hannah, our Circuit Visitor, has done a number of upgrades at Redeemer, including a redesign of the baptismal font; the design and building of a new altar; the design and building of a tabernacle; the design and building of an ambry; and the design and building of a collapsible fellowship table in the narthex. Additional facilities upgrading at Redeemer have included: an updating of the Catechist Rosa Room (in honor of Catechist Rosa Iris Cruz-Molina) which include updating of electronic accessibility; naming and furnishing of The Chapel of Saint Mary the Blessed Virgin Mother of our Lord (Our Lady’s Chapel) as a place for prayer and reflection; and ascetically landscaping supplementary green space on Redeemer’s east side wall to provide additional space for outdoor gatherings. Redeemer’s facilities and grounds have been a welcoming place for people from the congregation and the neighborhood alike. Much of this work has happened not only through the work of the many volunteers of Redeemer but through the work of Redeemer’s full-time custodial engineer, Mr. Arthur Currie, who began his work at Redeemer in 2005.
“God’s People Pray” is exemplified throughout the Wakefield section of The Bronx with Prayer Walks throughout the neighborhood led by Pastor Taylor and Deaconess Rojas accompanied by laypeople and members of FEET; HEARTS and LIPS. Significantly, Redeemerites have increased opportunities to “receive,
teach and celebrate Christ Jesus” through expanded Bible Studies on Friday mornings, Thursday evenings and designated study time set aside within meetings of each auxiliary often with the celebration of The Holy Eucharist. Furthermore, the initiation of a “Mommy/Daddy and Me” Sunday School class for toddlers and infants and a Special Summer Catechumenate provide accessible educational opportunities to a diverse intergenerational universe of persons.
Redeemer has been recognized for its work within the greater New York Metropolitan area having been the recipient of a $10,000 grant from the Lutheran Crusader Fund administered by Long Island Lutheran Middle & High School, Brookville, New York. Wartburg, Mount Vernon, New York, honored Redeemer with its “Jazz in June Wartburg Congregation of the Year” in 2015.
With persistence and dedication, Redeemer continues assisting Grace Lutheran Church in Queens Village, New York and St. Paul Lutheran Church in the Tremont section of The Bronx, New York during their extended periods of pastoral transition as they receive and share God’s gifts with the communities they serve. Moreover, through grants from the Atlantic District Lutheran Women’s Missionary League, Redeemer has initiated outreaches to taxi drivers, those who struggle with lives of prostitution, and those who are learning to read and speak.
Redeemer’s online presence has been expanded to include various avenues of social media, website development and the capacity for online prayer requests and giving. The online presence often has been the first exposure that people have had to Redeemer, encouraging them to come and join the parish. It has facilitated the reception of prayer requests, the sharing of pictures, and the worship of our Lord with offerings.
Christ continues to be confessed at Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church. With conservative Biblical preaching, orthodox Lutheran catechesis and liturgical sacramental worship, this congregation is a confessional, evangelical catholic communion in the Lutheran tradition. With a strong emphasis on worship, the congregation continues to grow in Christ’s mission.
Soli Deo Gloria