We are a community of people who share a bond of faith and love. We celebrate our joys and support each other in sorrow. We are stronger with each other. Here are a few stories from the Church of the Redeemer.
Betty Swinton has been a member of the Church of the Redeemer since 1965. When her husband received a job offer in the area she describes them as buying “The worst house in the best neighborhood and calling it a good investment.”
Both life-long Episcopalians, she and her husband “felt strongly that children should have a religious education.” They raised their four children at the Redeemer, where most of them were baptized and two of them were married. Her daughter Barbara even served as a youth representative to the Vestry and all of the children were involved in some sort of church-sponsored youth group. Betty describes the church as belonging to more of a “parish concept” back then, where most of the parishioners lived in the immediately surrounding community.
Betty has been a member through multiple Rector changes, citing Rev. Donald Bitsberger as the best preacher, and grateful to the last Rector, Rev. Dorsey McConnell for helping her through her grief when her husband died of lung cancer six years ago.
“I had many theological debates with Dorsey [someone known for his orthodox approach] because I think metaphorically… [yet] I’m a believer.” She describes herself as a lover of traditional liturgy despite her theological “cutting edge.” There has always been room for theological discussion at the Redemer throughout the years. She particularly remembers discussing the virgin birth and other miracles with children as a Sunday School teacher when her children were little.
As an art historian, she appreciates being surrounded by the beautiful art of the church, its architecture, its stained glass windows, and its music.
Now, after so many years, she values most her personal history at the Redeemer and her friends. “I feel like I belong here, and that’s important when you are an old widow.” She keeps connected as a member of the Eldercare Committee, taking the lead on planning a field trip for this fall, as well as adding her counsel to the Grounds Committee and the Pastoral Care Committee.
Betty credits the church for contributing to her children’s “upbringing of caring” which has lead all of them to persue nonprofit careers. She hopes the next phase of Redeemer life will support and relate to a younger congregation and its concerns as it did for her children. Although there might be a temptation in the future to move away from traditional Episcopal liturgy to accommodate those who were not raised in the church, she hopes the traditional liturgy will stay. “Liturgy is a large part of what makes us Episcopalians.”
Graeme Mills and his wife started their spiritual life at Old North Church, where they were married and had all their children baptized. As the children became older, they sought out the Redeemer for its programming on a friend’s recommendation.
“We are very happy with the foundation of faith that has been instilled in our children as a result of attending Church School here,” Graeme says. His children are now all post-Confirmation age and have been given the choice of whether or not to attend church. All three say they have a connection to the community here and also with God. “They continue to have a curiosity around exploring their faith and applying it.”
In 2009, Graeme and Debby took their three children on a mission trip to Pilgrim Africa. Then 12-year-old Zach made the insightful comment that “in Uganda people have nothing and yet they are happy, and in America we have all of this stuff and we are generally grumpy.” Graeme says it was “definitively transformative for them, both in seeing how people in Africa live and as well as seeing their faith.” It was an important lesson on materialism. “They continue to contribute out of their allowances to Pilgrim Africa as well as to the Redeemer,” and all would like to go back to Uganda.
The Mills have also taken multiple trips with Episcopalian groups to aid in Katrina disaster relief in New Orleans. “We do this for two reasons: our desire for our kids to have this experience, and to give back for the many blessings we feel we have received from the Lord.”
The entire family has been active participants at the Redeemer: Graeme is currently leading a lunch-time Bible Study in the financial district, and has served on Vestry, Outreach, and a postulant discernment committee. Debby serves on the Altar Guild, and has served on the Vestry and run numerous events including the Christmas market and auction. She currently serves as co-chair of the Strategic Ministries. The children have all been Servers and Acolytes, and the two oldest have been Youth Assistants who assist in the Sunday School classrooms. They describe the Redeemer as a “core component of our lives.”
When Graeme was unexpectedly unemployed in 2003, he used the time to explore his spirituality, and the church was instrumental in his spiritual formation. “Debby has always had faith, but Redeemer has built upon it, and she was very pleased when I came to my faith.”
“Relationships here are deeper than in other environments.” Particularly in Bible Study, getting other people’s interpretations of faith and how they see the world through rigorous group engagement is attractive to Graeme. “It allows me to connect with people on an entirely different level.”
To visitors, he says “You should come, because it is a great place for fellowship and personal development in a non-threatening and non-judgmental environment.”
Arthur Pfaelzer's first experience with the Redeemer was walking down the aisle to marry his first wife in 1963. His family was heavily involved at Trinity-Copley downtown, but he had become distant from it, living in Concord and worshiping at St. Paul’s in Dedham for 20 years.
Carol, who would eventually become his second wife, brought him to the Redeemer after they met in 1992 at a dinner party the year after Francoise had died. On their first date, Carol and Arthur talked about churches and God. Arthur knew she was the one for him when she served him tea using the same china rose pattern his mother owned.
Arthur has loved a number of Redeemer ministers over the years. “They cared about the people, the individuals, in the church. (They were) not just following protocol and giving nice sermons.” He also credits others in Redeemer lay leadership for being very religious and contributing to the feeling of care.
Arthur now feels that the church is part of his extended family, but having had religion forced upon him at a religious boarding school growing up, he was set against religion for some time. “(At the school) there was a lot of hazing despite the ministerial presence. I didn’t see their teachings as living the Good News, they were never connected to compassion and kindness, just abuse."
Still, he felt he always believed in God, no matter what was going on in churches and religious schools. He was happy when former Rector Rev. Dorsey McConnell started weekly Bible studies. “For the first time, Dorsey made us really understand the Bible,” a tradition that Arthur says has continued under the Rev. Mike Dangelo.
Unofficially, a women’s Bible study had been going on for 20 years, and Carol has been a part of it, leaning on the women in the group in times of need. When the official women’s study started under Dorsey, she joined that, too. “Sometimes we do more Bible and sometimes we do more comforting of people’s concerns,” she says.
She had joined the Redeemer when she had moved to Chestnut Hill in 1973 because it was the neighborhood church. She stayed a member through a divorce and becoming a single mother, although she did try other churches. Later, when her children were grown and she was contemplating a move to be closer to them, a parishioner told Carol that there would be a void in the parish if she moved. She stayed.
Arthur is a frequent attendee of Men’s Bible Study and other adult education programming. Carol still attends the Thursday morning Bible Study, is a leader of the Redeemer Rockers and volunteers on the Pastoral Care team.
“The Spirit of God is still here,” Arthur says.
We have been attending the Redeemer for more than 7 years, and I have served on the Vestry. I have been a Sunday School teacher and have assisted with the Christmas Pageant for several years as I’ve watched my children Grace and Curtis move through the Sunday School program.
I am an elementary school teacher at Newman Elementary School in Needham and serve on the Board of the Needham Education Foundation. Before earning my Master of Arts in Teaching from Simmons College in 2008 and entering the field of education, I worked in public relations and corporate communications.
A Russian Studies major from Hamilton College, I have also worked as a consultant for international trade companies and still enjoy using my Russian language skills when the opportunity arises. My husband, Tyler, and I and our two children live in West Roxbury. I appreciate the spiritual enrichment the Redeemer has given me and family through Vestry participation, worship, music, and acolyte service.