It was on the veranda of the Windermere Club House in the mid 1890's that the first religious training was begun on Wilmington Island. Children of the residents, who were mostly German Lutherans living on the island during the summer months, met with W. S. Smallwood and Louise Carter Stone for Sunday Bible School.
Inspired to erect a house of worship, the "Union Mission Church of Wilmington Island" was built and dedicated in 1899 on what is now Kessel Street. Supported and led by Mrs. Louise Stone, Miss Annie Carter, and Mrs. Chisolm, the 24'4" x 40'6" building was brought to fruition by the Misses Etta Judken, Mamie Schafer, Annie Halverson, May Rue, Josie Lang, Dora Judgen, and Lottie Lang. Church records dating back to 1910, show that an organ, "purchased for $40 cash," was first used on July 28, 1915.
During the early 1900's, Lottie Lang emerged as the driving force of the mission, often conducting divine worship services herself, and giving particular concentration of children's programs. A Vacation Bible School was held in 1923 with Miss Louise Sipple as director, and a "Cradle Roll" was added to the Sunday School Department in 1932.
Upon the death of Lottie Lang in March 1945, Rev. Alfred Shelley, pastor of St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Thunderbolt, became supply pastor. He served until his death on February 14, 1946.
Rev. Philip L. Wahlberg began his service as supply pastor on July 1, 1946. It was under his leadership that 24 adults and 19 baptized children became charter members of the congregation organized as "The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Redeemer of Wilmington Island" on February 1, 1948.
After Pastor Wahlberg's resignation on June 1, 1950, the congregation was served by supply pastors and seminary students until the church called its first full time pastor, Rev. Luther L. Swygert, in April 1956. The congregation incorporated in 1960 and voted to relocate to its present location. Rev. Swygert resigned on September 30, 1962, and Rev. Clarence H. Stucke became pastor on January 1, 1963.
The church experienced growth and new ministries under Pastor Stucke's 19-year ministry. On May 3, 1964, 185 people gathered for the dedication service for what was hailed as a "radically ultra-modern sanctuary". At this time the bell tower, housing the original church bell dating from 1911, was dedicated to the memory of Lottie Lang. The bell underwent renovation in 1997, and now, like in earlier years, the children eagerly take turns to announce worship by ringing the bell.
During the 1970's the Sunshine Club was born, the church became self-supporting, worship services began at Oceanside Nursing Home, faceted stained glass windows were installed, Laotian and Vietnamese immigrant families were sponsored, an Allen organ was purchased, the new "Lutheran Book of Worship" was introduced, and renovations to the sanctuary were made to create overflow rooms, used for both Sunday School and worship. A sad note during this decade occurred in June 1973 when the old church building was completely destroyed by fire.
Pastor Stucke's resignation was accepted in November 1981 and Rev. Jack C. Wray was installed as pastor in August 1982. The first church secretary was also hired at this time. During Pastor Wray's service, a church sign was designed and installed, and a building campaign for a fellowship hall was begun in 1985. Pastor Wray tendered his resignation in May 1986. At this time, the church had an average attendance of 111.
The next decade at Redeemer began with the installation of Rev. Paul W. Baumgartner as Redeemer's fourth pastor on January 1, 1987. In the first three years of Pastor Baumgartner's ministry, the fellowship hall was completed and dedicated; renovations and additions to the Sunday School and pastor's office were completed; the national church body that Redeemer belonged to, the Lutheran Church in America, became part of a new church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA); and the sanctuary was renovated with an updated look and an expansion of 70 seats. Growth led to further development in the early 1990's. A second Sunday morning worship service was added and a midweek fellowship dinner and program was begun.
As the mid 1990's approached, a mission statement was approved by the church, and continues to speak for the church today. A new educational building was dedicated in 1995. Mrs. Dottie Schmidt served as organist/choir director for several years and graciously donated our Moeller Artiste pipe organ that we use today. Handbells were purchased and dedicated, "With One Voice" hymnal supplements, stained glass entry windows, children's choir chimes, and pew Bibles were also received as gifts throughout this time. Bonnie Kelly was added to the church staff in the late '90's and served as Music Director. The church rejoiced to host and celebrate the service of ordination for Ralph Kraft in 1995 and for Lynda Ernst in 2003. Both were active members of Redeemer. Our Youth Ministry program had grown and we were excited to be able to hire Allison Ward as Redeemer's first Youth Director in 1999.
In 2000 the church voted to add a Columbarium on our property to serve not only our members but is also open to other local Lutheran churches. It is a beautiful fenced in area on the NW corner of our property.
The members also undertook another major building renovation, the BREAD "Building Redeemers Education and Discipleship" campaign. The connecting patio was enclosed to form an air conditioned narthex/loggia area that is now the main gathering space for Sunday School and Worship. The blue windows behind the altar were replaced with a beautiful clear wall of windows that provides a gorgeous view of God's world, and a new covered walkway and steeple was added at the entrance providing shelter for the children who love to ring the original bell.
In January 2004 Pastor Baumgartner resigned as Redeemer's pastor after 17 years to accept a call in Atlanta, Ga.
In 2004 we began a partnership with In His Arms, a Christian ministry to serve families in the area with before and after school child care as well as summer day camp.
Pastor Don Hanberry served as interim Pastor during 2004 and in March 2005 Pastor Wayne Cobb was installed as Redeemer's fifth pastor. Shortly after, Ken Hudlow was hired as our Music Director. In 2007 Allison Ward resigned and Chip Lingle was hired as Congregational Ministries Director.
Pastor Wayne Cobb served us until 2012. During his ministry at Redeemer we offered two different styles of worship. We hosted a before and after school daycare ministry for several years through “In His Arms Daycare”. We developed a strong relationship with the local Second Harvest Food Bank and donate a grocery cart full of food each month. We participate in the Backpack Buddies program which provides supplemental food to local needy students for the weekend. Our active men’s group participates in fellowship, church projects and the Adopt a Soldier program. Our women’s group “Sharing Sisters” does a variety of service projects along with weekly Bible study. They also have initiated the installation of a Labyrinth on the property to serve as a location for inspirational renewal. Redeemer Lutheran Church called Allison Ward to be its Diaconal Minister serving through Memorial Health University Medical Center. Her consecration into the Diaconal Ministry was a celebration for both God’s call to Allison and her call to Redeemer. She has developed and runs the CARE team which provides visitation to our homebound members. A new music director, Mary Scarborough joined our staff in 2011.
Our interim minister Pastor Jim Peper bridged the gap until we could call our new Pastor, the Reverend Steven Hilgeman.
Under the guidance of Pastor Steve, the Redeemer congregation continues to be a celebration of service, dedication, and commitment to our Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Redeemer congregation is both old and new in its membership and community of varied ages, maintaining the truths of yesterday, meeting the challenges of today, and discerning God’s will for tomorrow.