Our Congregation is Founded

In November of 1946, Kermit and Francis Lehman moved to Oklahoma City from Louisiana with their three children. The Lehmans were a Lutheran family and wished to continue their worship in the Lutheran faith. However, there were no Lutheran churches in the Black Community of Oklahoma City.

The Lehman family initially worshiped at Zion Lutheran Church, which was located near downtown Oklahoma City. After several months, some problems involving communion of the Lehman family surfaced in the congregation. Reverend Shultz, pastor of Zion Lutheran, and Mr. Kermit Lehman discussed the possibility of establishing a place of worship in the Negro Community, so that the Lutheran faith could become known in this area of town.

In the summer of 1947, Kermit and Francis Lehman began holding church services in their home under the name St. Paul Lutheran Mission, a name brought forward from the church they attended in Louisiana. Pastor Hansel preached many of these services, and was followed by Pastor Schmiesing, the assistant pastor of Zion. On September 27 of that year, the St. Paul Lutheran Mission services were started at the old YMCA building located at Second and Stiles. This was to continue as the place of worship until October 9, 1949, when services were moved to the Seventh Day Adventist Church located at Second and Durland.

Our Congregation Grows

In June of 1951, the St. Paul Lutheran Mission rented a stone building on the corner of Eleventh and Northeast Grand Boulevard. This became the place of worship until December, 1953. When Pastor Schulz died suddenly on October 19, 1951, the congregation called Rev. Schmiesing to be pastor, and he served through 1953.

Mrs. Frances (Walter) Edwards, a Redeemer member, was instrumental in developing plans to locate a new church building next to the historic Edwards Hospital. Walter J. Edwards and Roscoe Dungee of the Black Dispatch took leadership in acquiring the site, and Dr. William Theimer of Zion Lutheran assisted in its purchase ($1,850.00). On January 14, 1954, the present building at 1524 Northeast Grand Boulevard was dedicated. In the transition from a mission to a church, the name was changed to Redeemer Lutheran Church. At the time, Redeemer was affiliated with the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod.

Pastor Karl Thiele became the first full-time pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in 1955. The Summer VBS program reached and involved a large number of people. Some summer programs involved 350 children and young people. As the parish ministry unfolded, there was also a focus on civil rights issues. It was a period of organization and gathering, with windows toward the community.

Our Congregation and the Civil Rights Movement

In October, 1960, Pastor Norbert Kabelitz was installed as pastor of Redeemer. There followed a phase of parish renewal, innovative liturgies, a search for identity and mission, expansion of facilities, strong and creative worship and educational programs, a commitment to outreach and an expanding community ministry.

In 1968-69, a building expansion was proposed after extensive studies of the future of the area, particularly because of the Medical Center complex, and its impact on the community. Plans were developed to build a two-story learning center, and to remodel the worship area, parish hall, and kitchen.

The congregation was deeply involved with several major community issues during the late 1960s and early 1970s. These included the Sanitation Strike (August-December, 1969); school integration issues (Integration and Busing, 1968-73); the COCO Low Income Credit Union (1969-74); and Public Housing models. The parish worked with many community groups dealing with these issues, such as the Urban League, the JJVIA, the CCL, the NAACP, and CAP. The parish also was among the first to support the newly formed OIC program of Rev. Leon Sullivan fame, and Dr. Charles Atkins served as “spearhead” for the program. The church building was fire-bombed early Sunday morning, May 14, 1972; extensive damage was sustained to the facility, and eight months were spent repairing and rebuilding.

Our Congregation and Lutheran Re-Affiliation

The period of 1973 to 1977 was an intensive era of emerging parish leadership necessary to address movements within the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (LCMS). Redeemer was among the early leaders of ELIM (Evangelical Lutherans in Mission) and helped found the Afro-American Lutheran Conference (NCAAL). In December, 1976, Redeemer participated in the founding of the new Lutheran church body, the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (AELC) and became a charter member of Southwest Synod of the AELC.

In September 1977, the parish withdrew its affiliation from the LCMS, and adopted a plan to become self-supporting by January 1, 1980. The major hurdle was the “liberation” of a $63,000 debt; it was divided between pastor (sale of the parsonage) and the parish on January 1, 1978, and the goal of $30,000.00 (the Liberation Fund) was adopted to free the church from debt by 1980. This two-year effort was successful, and involved many projects by the parish members, nine other supportive churches, and eighteen individuals of other parishes, some as far away as Virginia and Detroit.

One of the major new ministries at Redeemer in the 1970s was the “Black Images in the Bible”. This project initially involved eighteen members of the parish. After several primitive editions, a two-volume set of resources was developed to deal with racist issues in Biblical information, and to equip God’s people for new forms of community. The material was based on Biblical references involving non-white and black identities, and the insights of the Gospel for the formation of “liberated” communities from the curse of racism and sexism.

Our Congregation and Community Ministry

On January 25, 1970, ground was broken for the Denise McNair Learning Center, and this addition was dedicated April 29, 1971. A Day Care Center was begun through the pioneering efforts of Alva Jean Ewing and Sarah McKinley in August, 1975. The Day Care/Pre-School served about forty-five children, with an average daily attendance of forty, including a nursery for eight. It was incorporated as a non-profit corporation with a Managing Board, and was qualified for funds from the School Lunch Program. A staff of eight ran the day-to-day operation.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, members of Redeemer studied ways of using the abandoned Edwards Hospital building located just north of the church. It was initially thought that this once proud facility could be renovated and made to serve a useful purpose in northeastern Oklahoma City. Since Redeemer had been deeply involved in community affairs, this situation was clearly seen as an opportunity to extend the visibility of the church in the community. Several possibilities were considered, including a birthing center, congregate housing, a Lutheran school, and a nursing center. The nursing center option was adopted, and plans were made to proceed, using the old hospital building. When it was discovered that the old hospital building could not meet Oklahoma City’s safety standards, its use was no longer a viable option. Consequently, the old building was demolished and a new structure was planned to replace it. This facility would include the latest innovations in nursing home technology and possess the capability of providing a high quality health care environment for the residents. Because of the leadership of the Edwards family, who developed the Edwards Hospital during the 1950s, the new facility was to be named the Edwards-Redeemer Nursing Center.

The financial constraints of the nursing home project were significant. A non-profit corporation, the Urban East Development Corp., was formed from among Redeemer’s membership to take the leadership for development of the project. Funding was eventually obtained through a loan from the Housing and Urban Development division of the U.S. government, and the generosity of many of the members of Redeemer. Construction of the Edwards-Redeemer Nursing Center started in July 1987, and the facility was opened to patients in May 1988. Unfortunately, the Urban East Corporation was forced to declare bankruptcy after about one year of operation, the nursing facility was sold to private investors, and Redeemer members spent the next several years dealing with financial losses related to development of the Edwards-Redeemer Nursing Center.

Our Congregation and Continued Spiritual Growth into the Present

The last several years of the 1980s saw many changes in Redeemer’s worship life. In October of 1988, Pastor Kabelitz accepted a call in Clearwater, Florida, and for the next several years, Redeemer was served by several interim pastors, including Pastors John Gosswein and Edwin Schlachtenhaufen. Pastor Carl Petering, a vicar at Presbyterian Hospital, was installed as pastor in 1989 for a two year term. During this period, Redeemer members began to contribute in new ways. A Worship Committee was formed to assist and advise pastors on orders of service; the Lutheran Book of Worship was adopted to standardize the liturgy; and lay liturgy assistants were recruited to fil the role of assisting minister. Other members filled roles as greeters, Sunday school teachers, readers, counters, and other volunteers, as the congregation sought to sustain its ministry.

In May of 1991, Pastor Petering accepted a call to be Director of Pastoral Care at Johnson City Medical Center in eastern Tennessee. Over the next several years, Redeemer was served by interim pastors, Robert Collins and Hugo Schwartz, before the call of Pastor Jimmy Christion (1993-95). Pastor Hugo Schwartz subsequently served a second term as interim pastor until 1999.

A number of new steps were taken in the late 1990s during the ministry of Pastor Schwartz. Redeemer began to hold Revivals during the fall of the year, with leaders such as Pastor Patrick Keen, Pastor James Capers, and Pastor Raymond LeBlanc. The uses of African-American music traditions were expanded, with increased use of Songs of Zion, and later with the purchase of the new Lutheran Hymnal, “This Far by Faith”. Renovations made to the sanctuary included new paint, carpeting and pew covers. The youth attended an African-American conference in Atlanta. We began to offer use of Redeemer’s building as a polling facility, and continued to support community projects such as Mobile Meals, Crop Walk, and other activities.

Since 2000, Redeemer has been served by several full-time pastors: Pastor Walter C. Little (1999-2002), Pastor Anthony Chatman (2004-08) and Pastor Adrian Brown (2012-16). During periods of vacancy, Redeemer has been supported by appointed interim pastors, including Pastors Hugo Schwartz, Leslie Ulrich, Dawn Enderwood, and Deaconess Margie Faulkner. In 2016, Redeemer entered into a joint ministry agreement with St. Mark Lutheran (Midwest City) and Ascension Lutheran (Del City). We continue to seek new ways to serve our members, our community, and the whole church of God.

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