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Church of the Redeemer celebrates 150 years

On most days, the high ceiling and the hardwood floors of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer create an open space where footsteps echo and light dances through the stained glass window. The cross-shaped building reflects the magnitude and greatness of God. But on Sunday morning, when the doors are open and people line the rows, the warmth and mercy of Christ shines through the parishioners.

For 150 years, members of Redeemer have strived to be loving and caring members of the Body of Christ. L. Ralph Smith, an active member of the church since the 1950s, said the welcoming nature of the church is what both kept him coming back and pushing him to give his time and energy.

“You are what you are, and that’s where you’re accepted,” he said.

Throughout a nearly yearlong process of gathering historical information for the anniversary and interviewing church members, this theme of welcoming community played over and over again.

“I tell people it’s my spiritual pitstop, where I get fueled up for the week to come,” James Minter said about Sunday mornings at the Redeemer.

Minter, who joined the church in 1980 after moving to Brookhaven from Pittsburgh, said the church has shown how small acts can have a large spiritual impact.

“There is this holiness and this extraordinary in the ordinary,” he said. “We come in as a choir and practice at 9 o’clock on Sunday morning, and Gloria Channel is there, and she’s acting as a verger and setting up the altar. Making sure the wine and the wafers are there. There’s water for Anne, making sure the numbers on the board match up with the program. She looks at that as ordinary, and I look at that as a holy task. I kind of feel in awe in her presence while doing that.”

The first Episcopal service in Brookhaven was held in 1867 after Dr. Thomas T. Meade moved to Brookhaven. Bishop William Mercer Green, the first bishop of the Diocese of Mississippi, visited the Brookhaven church for the first time in 1868 with 11 communicants listed.

In 1926, the Rev. Homer E. Bush became the Priest-in-Charge of the Church of the Redeemer and remained for 21 years until his death in 1947, the longest of any priest at the church. During Bush’s time, the church celebrated the 50th anniversary of the church building and welcomed the Rt. Rev. Theodore Dubose Bratton, the third Bishop of Mississippi.

Bush, like many clergy in the Diocese at this time, held services in several churches each Sunday. Fred Cannon told Rev. Edward Hale in 1992 that Bush did not have a car, and the trains did not fit with his schedule. Therefore, when he was in high school, Cannon would get up every Sunday morning and drive Bush to Crystal Springs at 7:30 a.m., Hazlehurst at 9 a.m. and Brookhaven at 11 a.m.

A century after Bush celebrated the 50th anniversary, his legacy carries on in a unique way. His granddaughter, Rev. Anne Matthews, leads the parish today and has worked to cultivate a record of all the major changes, primarily focusing on the last 25 years, in celebration of this milestone anniversary.

One of the major milestones in Redeemer’s history was in 1996, when it became a parish under the guidelines of the diocese during Rev. Buck Lea’s tenure as rector.

“I remember 50 to 60 people at the diocesan council from the church when it officially became a parish,” Mike Said recalled. “That was really a proud, proud moment. It was a step forward.”

The church used today was built in 1948, but from 1998-2000, it underwent a major expansion project.

“Everybody seemed to be so worried about this remodel process,” Minter said. “If you can imagine, the church that was built in 1948 was this long narrow structure — hardly 18 feet wide. And all the arches that you see in the walls now were built that way and then filled in with brick. So many people were worried about taking that brick out, that the building would collapse. Well, the beauty of an arch is that it’s self-supporting, so there were some anxious folks around the day they started to knock those bricks out. It wasn’t an issue because that’s how the church was built.”

In 2002, the women of the church began Angel’s Attic, which celebrated its 15th anniversary last year. This outreach ministry not only provides items at affordable prices, but returns thousands of dollars to the community each year to help those in need.

The latest addition, Trinity Park, was completed in 2012. This open area was previously the site of a defunct Texaco station and was made possible by Bud Urban.

“Bud Urban was in the barbershop getting a haircut. I said to him, ‘Why don’t you just buy that lot, tear down the gas station. We’ll plant some grass. It’ll look a lot better,’” Said said. “Lo and behold, he ended up buying the thing.”

Said is quick to add Trinity Park itself was not his idea. Urban, Dorothy Benson and a group of other women in the church joined forces to create the plan for the area.

“We had a lot of fun, and I think it’s been a real asset to the community,” she said. “I think it makes a big difference on that street.”

Over the past century and a half, the church has seen many changes, but its dedication to Christ’s message and it’s diligence to serve the community has not wavered.

“The main thing I’m concerned about in a church is that I can spiritually worship and there’s a community spirit,” said Judy Grimes, who joined the church in the ‘90s. “I think that Redeemer has been able to maintain that throughout the years in different ways.”

The church will hold its first celebration for the 150th anniversary on May 6 at 4 p.m., with services led by the Rt. Rev. Brian Seage, bishop of the Diocese of Mississippi.

Resurrecting the Rector’s BBQ

As discussion surrounding the past 25 years ramped up for the historical project, many happy memories surfaced around the Rector’s BBQ that was used as fundraiser for the church expansion. With drawdown tickets for a hefty prize and barbecue plate sales, the annual event not only brought together the church but the entire community.

This year, the church has decided to bring the event back on May 19. With music, activities for the kids and plenty of food, everyone in the area is invited to come out and have a good time.

“I am so excited that our church is resurrecting the Rector’s BBQ,” said event chairman Shannon Clark. “I have such fun memories of it and find it so hard to believe that our last one was 20 years ago.”

This time, the money raised will benefit Trinity Park. The area in the past couple of years has become a community hotspot for outdoor festivities, ranging from wedding receptions to midday concerts.

“While it was a great fundraising tool, it was really more of a community fellowship event, and that is what we hope to recreate this year,” she said. “We want the whole community to come together to enjoy great barbecue.”

Barbecue plates are being provided by Magnolia Blues BBQ and are $10 per ticket. This year only 200 drawdown tickets will be sold. Each ticket costs $100 and will be entered for a possible grand prize of $5,000. Second prize will be $1,000, and third prize will be $500.

All tickets are now on sale. To purchase either a BBQ or drawdown ticket, contact a church member or call 601-757-3544.

Story by Julia Miller