“I shall not die…” (Psalm 118:17)
“I shall not die.…” These rebellious, reformation words sung by the psalmist have been embraced by saints throughout the ages. By God’s grace, as we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the first Lutheran Reformation and the 90th anniversary of Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church, they are our words as well.
“I shall not die.…” A priest named Martin Luther embraced these words as his life had been threatened not only by the understanding of God’s Law but by the misunderstanding of God’s Gospel. Once the Holy Spirit revealed to Luther the truth of the Gospel, his life remained threatened not only as he was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church but as he remained an outlaw who could be killed on sight. Our Lord preserved Luther and allowed him to mobilize an important reformation in Christ’s Holy Church that has directed people to the Good News of Jesus Christ who saves us by grace through faith for over five hundred years.
“I shall not die.…” These words have been embraced by Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church in The Bronx, New York. The founders of this parish believed that without a place to gather to receive God’s gifts that they and their neighbors could die. To combat death, they founded Redeemer with a first Liturgy conducted by Pastor Adolf Meyer on April 15, 1928. They also founded a Sunday School that same year.
“I shall not die….” Baptized and communing at His holy altar, the early saints of Redeemer decided to move forward for the sake of the many people who did not know Christ in Wakefield and still were on a path of death. Since they did not need to die because Christ Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead, Redeemer believed it important to share this Good News vigorously and boldly. With that in mind, Redeemer extended the Divine Call to Pastor William Bruening to be the Pastor. He served with energy and vitality. Redeemer was off to a great start.
“I shall not die.…” And Redeemer did not die. The construction of a chapel and the purchase of a parish house would facilitate the numerical growth of this young parish. This would lead to the calling of Pastor Robert Haupt to be Redeemer’s Pastor and the eventual erection of our current beautiful church building. With World War II in the history books, Redeemer experienced the kind of post-war boom that many congregations did in the United States of America. The Christus Rex that hangs in the chancel designed in this era reminds us how that defiance of death allows us to gather as priestly people to be about our Lord’s work in the world as we wait for His glorious return. Redeemer was on the move.
“I shall not die….” Pastor Donald Heitner was called to be Redeemer’s Pastor in the 1960s and an addition was built to the church building to facilitate supplementary space for offices and religious education. New York City continued its transitions culturally, sociologically, and ideologically as the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement swirled not only in people’s imaginations but even on the streets and in the neighborhoods. In it all, though, Redeemer was not done.
“I shall not die….” Redeemer’s pastoral vacancy after Pastor Heitner’s departure ended when Pastor Theodore Wittrock became Redeemer’s Pastor. People chided him for accepting a Call to The Bronx during a time of such tremendous transition when “The Bronx was burning.” He did not let that stop him from embracing both the people and the challenges. Death, however, was still around us. Many other congregations closed. Many Christian schools shut their doors. Many parish Sunday Schools no longer functioned. Many other congregations did not have youth groups. Many pastors no longer were serving and many laypeople were discouraged as they rejected church completely. Yet, that did not stop Pastor Wittrock from being an able leader, a trusted shepherd, an esteemed mentor and a driving and defiant force for living. The Wittrock family echoed the words of the African American spiritual, believing that Redeemer “ain’t got time to die.” By God’s grace, Redeemer did not die as fellowship events, youth group activities, and worship continued, despite the odds stacked against growth. Redeemer had more work to do.
“I shall not die….” It has characterized our ongoing rebellion against death as people of all ages continue to embody our parish mission: Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church, by God’s grace, is a praying community of service that receives, teaches, celebrates and shares Christ Jesus. As “God’s People Pray” through the years, people like Pastor Christian Bunzel, Pastor John Heidgerd, and Vicar Christopher Conkling have grown up at Redeemer and are now serving in congregations and ministries throughout the nation. Missionaries have been sent from here to places in the United States and far beyond. Neighboring congregations have been revitalized and assisted because of the stubborn and defiant faith of Christ’s people at Redeemer. Church workers and their families have been healed and encouraged in this place for active service in the world. Future church workers have received instruction about how to defy death through Jesus Christ. Many people from various stripes, cultures, backgrounds, and perspectives have regarded Redeemer as their home proclaiming “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.” As demographics and religious commitments in the United States of America continue to shift, Redeemer, by God’s grace, defies death with a solid commitment to the Word of God and an undying dedication to bringing God’s gifts to all people.
“I shall not die…” We died once in our baptism into Christ. We shall not die again; our sin is forgiven and death has no hold on us. We are more than conquerors through Him who first loved us (Romans 8:37). Let our anniversary Alleluias crush the head of the Enemy as we “receive, teach, celebrate and share Christ Jesus.” In that stubborn eucharistic hope and in that resilient baptismal faith, let us proclaim incessantly, “I Know that My Redeemer Lives” and because of that, “I shall not die….”
Peace, joy and love,
Saturday Liturgy: 7PM
Sunday Liturgies: 8AM & 11AM
Wednesday Liturgy: 7:30PM
Anointing with Oil for Healing: Once a month as indicated in the calendar.
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A Brief History
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...
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Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church
4360 Rev. Theodore Wittrock Crossing
(Boyd and Barnes Avenues)
The Bronx, NY 10466-1804
Phone: 718.324.1288 - Fax: 718.324.2056
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