History of the Church of the Redeemer
Early Episcopalians in Sarasota
The Church of the Redeemer began as a worshipping fellowship of Episcopalians in the mid-1880s, the early days of settlement in the area. Many of its first leaders were Scottish Episcopalians who came to Sarasota as part of a real estate development project.
Most notable among these early churchmen was Colonel J. Hamilton Gillespie. Gillespie was the first mayor of Sarasota and was also the founder of the first area golf course and public library. He eventually was ordained a deacon for the Church.
By 1904, the Sarasota congregation of Episcopalians had 26 communicants and a building of its own and was officially recognized that year as a mission of the missionary district of South Florida. Redeemer was admitted with parish status at the Diocesan Convention in 1934. The Reverend William A. Lillycrop was rector at the time.
Growing to Serve
After three moves, remodeling, and additions to accommodate a growing congregation, the church's location was fixed at the corner of Orange Avenue and Morrill Street near the downtown area. By 1944, a larger building was necessary and the decision was made to purchase property on Sarasota Bay for the construction of a new church.
This project was completed under the leadership of Father John Harvey Soper (Rector, 1942-1952), and the first services were held in the new church on Friday, 17 March 1950. Additions of a parish hall and church school building were completed in 1953-1954. The rector at the time was Father William F. Moses, later Suffragan Bishop of the diocese. Significant interior renovations were accomplished when the rector was Father Paul Reeves (1959-1965), later Bishop of Georgia.
The great bell tower and five bells were erected in 1967 when Father Thomas Fitzgerald was rector (1965-1978). Renovations and major additions to the Parish Hall were completed in 1984 when Father Jack Iker was rector.
A two-story addition with sacristies, a book store, and classrooms was completed in 1999 under the leadership of Father Fredrick Robinson.
Mother to Episcopal Churches in Sarasota
As the Church of the Redeemer has grown, it has started new missions which are now their own parishes.
Under the leadership of Redeemer clergy and laity, congregations were begun at Venice in 1936 (St. Mark's), on Siesta Key in 1954 (St. Boniface), and east of Sarasota in 1959 (St. Wilfred's).
Since the late 1970s, lay people from Redeemer have been instrumental in the initiation of additional missions throughout the area: on Longboat Key (All Angels by the Sea), in Osprey (Holy Spirit), east of I-75 (St. Margaret of Scotland), northeast of Sarasota (Church of the Nativity), and most recently in Manatee County (St. Mary Magdalene).
Christian Service to the Community
A number of outreach programs and service projects have grown out of the parish's ministry to the community. The chaplaincy program at Manatee Community College and Resurrection House are a couple of examples of such outreach ministries.
Members of the parish continue to provide significant service and leadership in the community through a variety of volunteer and civic organizations. The Redeemer's physical plant also serves the people of Sarasota in providing space for various 12-Step groups and a number of community service organizations.
The continuing task of a parish with so prophetic a name as the Church of the Redeemer, and placed as it is in the heart of the city, clearly is to be a light for Christ and a sign of His redeeming love, fostering in the midst of the world continuing opportunities for Christian growth and ministry.