THE HISTORY OF THE
EPISCOPAL CHURCH OF THE REDEEMER
The history of Church of the Redeemer ("Redeemer”) is rich with stories of the struggle for survival and ”good times”, by people who loved God and believed in the current mission statement, "Knowing Christ known by the Power of the Holy Spirit.” There is so much to share. Hopefully this brief summary will provide with an understanding of the Redeemer family.
It began in the 1940’s when Wilber Cochel gifted a tract of farmland (currently the east side of I-29 at the Tiffany Springs exit) to the National Church to assist in spiritual life growth in rural communities. The National Church, working in conjunction with the National Town and Country Church Institute ("NTCCI”), started Roanridge which was so-called because of the roan-colored shorthorn cattle once bred on the land. Roanridge was originally a training center for Episcopal priests and seminarians who wanted to work in small farming communities across America. They taught the Bible and studied the issues of small town America, which included organic farming, how to fix a tractor and plow a field. NTCCI began to grow and a dorm was added including classrooms, a kitchen and a chapel. Three tiny missions were consolidated and in August 1950 they met at Roanridge for services. There the Chapel of the Redeemer took form in May 1954 became a mission of the Episcopal Diocese of West Missouri. Church members brought fresh food to church and after the 8 a.m. service, they had a breakfast of home-cured ham and bacon; fresh eggs and milk; and homemade bread, butter, and jam. Great food is a tradition at Redeemer and you will still see food in the hall after the 8 and 10:30 a.m. services.
In 1958, Bishop Welles held a meeting to discuss the relationship of NTCCI, Roanridge, the Diocese, and Redeemer. It was decided Redeemer should relocate to a growing area around Platte Woods. The $12,000 paid to the congregation of Redeemer for its equity in the Roanridge Chapel facilities was used to purchase five acres of land (including a farmhouse that was used as a vicarage) at 72nd Street and Highway 9, Kansas City, Missouri. A two-story Church building with bright red doors was built, and the first services were held November 1960 in the area currently known as "Coffelt Hall”. The move was not really accepted by everyone but Redeemer forged on and over the ensuing years became known as "the little gray church with the red doors.” A new vicarage was completed in July 1962 which housed many subsequent priests and their families. An expansion of the vicarage was completed in November of 1967 that included a bedroom, dining space, and a furnace room. Eventually our priests started living "off campus” and the vicarage of the Church grounds soon came to be known as the House of Prayer where people could go to meditate and pray. Since that time, the House of Prayer has housed many organizations, often free of charge, including, but not limited to Synergy Services, Platte Senior Services, Alcoholics Anonymous, Northland Infant Clothing Center, Quilters, youth ministry, Redeemer’s Youth Group and Vacation Bible School activities.
Between 1964 and 1965, Redeemer could not afford a priest and Bishop Welles suggested Redeemer close its doors. At the urging of Dean Coffelt, Bishop Welles agreed to keep Redeemer open but without financial help from the Diocese. Dean Coffelt, his family, and Ed Henry read Morning Prayer, preached the sermon, and printed the news and service bulletins. Other members, were also determined to see the Church survive (the "Loyalists of the Church of the Redeemer”), organized money raising projects and social potluck suppers to get the church back on it financial feet. (Thus, Redeemer’s tradition of potlucks, that continues to this day.) The Church grew from five members to 35 members; the Church was once again able to pay its own way. By 1967, 152 communicants worshiped at Redeemer. It is important to note there were also many unpaid clergy hours put in during this time that helped Redeemer grow. Contrary to the difficulties faced by Redeemer in the 1960s, overall the 1970s saw more stability and growth and only two vicars. This, in spite of the departure of one vicar and 31 members in 1975 when National Church approved the ordination of women.
The 1980s were also good to Redeemer. On January 1, 1982, Redeemer was granted full parish status after demonstrating that it had been financially independent of the Diocese or the National Church for the prior three years. The priest Redeemer hired in September 1981 became its first official Rector (as opposed to Vicar). The Church grew in numbers again and the "red doors” disappeared during the next expansion that included a new narthex, nave, sanctuary, and education facilities dedicated by Bishop Arthur Vogel in February 1987. At this time, the former sanctuary became what is lovingly referred to as Coffelt Hall where social and educational functions occur. During this time, the Church offices were moved to the bottom floor of the original Church building under Coffelt Hall. At different times over the years, the Developmental Center and Al-Anon have used the space underneath Coffelt Hall.
During the 1990s, Redeemer had one priest. Challenges faced by Redeemer included the need to clarify and act on its vision; finances; temporary closure of Coffelt Hall, and growth. The current mission statement was born during this decade. The Diocese was gracious in relieving Redeemer of some of its debt. Coffelt Hall’s roof issues were resolved after much donated legal work from Bill Rudy. The nave built in 1987, which seated 300, was rapidly becoming too small causing Redeemer to move from a pastoral to a program church. By 1997, average Sunday attendance was over 300; Sunday school facilities were too small; and the storage and office spaces were crowded.
Due to the booming growth of the 1990s, Redeemer once again saw an expansion that was completed in 2003 (the nave was expanded and office space was moved. The pews that had been in the original Church at 72nd Street were donated to Mount Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Arkansas and we obtained new pews from St. Agnes in Detroit, Michigan, which just by happenstance was where our then priest, Ed Whelan, went to church as a little boy. Shortly after the new expansion,approximately one-third of the congregation left due to the National Church’s ordination of a gay bishop. From 2003 through 2011, Church of the Redeemer faced considerable debt, suddenly diminished and further dwindling membership, and the feelings of loss and grief. During those eight years, Redeemer had two interim priests and one called priest (served four years). As a unifying symbol for the Church’s past, present, and future, our called priest during this time had one of the Church’s exterior doors painted red in honor of this much loved part of Redeemer's history. In spite of ongoing challenges, Redeemer members continued in their resiliency. Fr. Joe Behen faithfully accepted the call to be Redeemer’s next priest and started his journey with us in November 2011. It is with great faith, hope, joy, excitement and perseverance that the Redeemer family looks forward in the years ahead to knowing and making Christ known by the power of the Holy Spirit! God is good.
Priests who Served Church of the Redeemer
1958-1964--The Rev. Sylvan W. Law, Vicar; 1965-1966--Metropolitan Team Ministry, Guest Vicars; 1965-1966--The Rev. Staley Hackley, Vicar; 1966-1967--The Rev. Herman Page, Vicar; 1967-1970--The Rev. James S. Masters, Vicar; 1970-1975--The Rev. M. Joseph ("Joe”) Hirsch, Vicar; 1975-1981--The Rev. David A. Egbert, Vicar; 1981-1988--The Rev. Maurice ("Mo”) V. Champion, Rector; 1988-2003--The Rev. Edgar ("Ed”) J. Whelan, Rector; 2003-2005--The Rev. Jerry Skillicorn, Interim Rector; 2005-2009--The Rev. R. Louise Baker, Rector; 2009-2011--The Rev. Jess Reeves, Interim Rector; 2011-Present--The Rev. R. Joseph ("Joe”) Behen, Rector.
History of the Episcopal Church in the United States