Parish History & Parish Seal
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 The Very Rev. Fredrick A. 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.
The Redeemer Bell Tower
Towering sixty-five feet above the ground and standing as a permanent offering of glory to Almighty God is the great Bell Tower at the Church of the Redeemer. Housed within it are five bronze bells, dedicated 8 October 1967 which, day by day, week by week, call the people of Sarasota to the worship of God. Made possible by a generous donation by Mrs. Irene Almeda Hope, the tower and its bells are in memory of her husband, Frank Radford Hope. The bells are German, cast at the Rudolph Perner foundry in Passau, a city famous for its bells since the 12th century.
Each of the bells is named and carries its own inscription. The powerful bass bell, depicting the Risen Christ and inscribed with the words, ”I am the resurrection and the life,” is a D bell which weighs 3,335 pounds. Called by experts, “a magnificent octave third bell with internal harmony comparable to an organ,” the bell has an immense resonance which holds sound for three minutes and can be heard for several miles. It is tolled alone during the Canon of Consecration and at funerals.
The St. Joseph Bell is an F-sharp bell weighing 1,595 pounds and is inscribed with the words, “O ye humble and holy men of heart, bless ye the Lord.” It is rung at the beginning of services.
The St. Francis Bell, weighing 883 pounds, bears the words, “They are not of the world, even so have I sent them into the world.”
The St. Mary Bell is a 620-pound B bell containing the words, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord.”
The Gabriel Bell is a 2,174-pound E bell which bears the words, “Praise ye him all ye angels.”
An electrical mechanism sets the bells in motion in the tower, insuring a superior tone to the sounds when motionless bells are struck.
Msgr. Max Tremmel, appointed by the German government as expert and examiner of bells, wrote a four-page opinion of the bells before they left Germany, “It may be stated that a unique and outstanding set of bells turned out concerning the exterior form as well as the musical quality … . Consequently, a unique and excellent chime has come into being with considerable variety for which one may most cordially congratulate the purchaser and founder.”
The Redeemer Cross
This unique cross, designed by a former rector of the parish, hangs over the high altar, a constant reminder to us of how our redemption was accomplishedIn the center is what is known as the Jerusalem Cross, representing the five wounds of Jesus.
At the top are “alpha” and “omega,” the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, traditionally used to refer to Jesus Christ, who is the beginning and the end (Revelation 22: 13).
At the bottom, in the four quadrants of the cross, are the initial letters of the Greek form of “Jesus Christ” above the Greek word “triumphs.”
On the left are the first three letters of the Greek form of the name Jesus.
On the right is the symbol known as the “Chi Rho,” standing for the first two letters of the Greek form of the word Christ.
The symbolism of this cross proclaims clearly that Jesus Christ is our Redeemer.
The imagery is appropriate for the Church of the Redeemer, not only because pelicans are abundant in and around Sarasota Bay, but also because Redeemer is the “mother parish” for every other Episcopal congregation in the Sarasota area.
Our monthly parish newsletter, The Pelican, gets its name from the mother bird pictured in this seal.