In the summer of 1957, Diocesan Bishop Karl Morgan Block purchased three acres of land in East San Rafael for a new church. Included in the purchase was the McNear Mansion, a 10,000 square foot home built in 1906, when the McNears owned 24,000 acres of land stretching from China Camp to what is now Loch Lomond.
In September of 1957, the Reverend Reginald Hammond was appointed Priest-in-Charge of the new mission church. The Reverend Hammond had previously retired as the Rector of The Church of Our Saviour in Mill Valley. The second floor of the mansion was remodeled to provide living quarters for the Hammonds, while the first floor ballroom became the Chapel and the other rooms were used for Sunday School.
The first service was held on November 7th 1957; 75 people attended and the collection garnered $38.83! The early congregation had only one confirmed Episcopalian. By December of 1958 Diocesan reports show a congregation of 27 confirmed Episcopalians, 9 Methodists, 10 Presbyterians, 2 Baptists, 2 Lutherans, as well as two Greek and one Russian families.
A Thrift Shop was opened in the basement of the mansion in 1961 and was of significant financial help to the church. Father Hammond retired, again, in 1962 and the Reverend Beaumont was called as Vicar of the mission church. During his tenure, plans were drawn up for a Parish Hall facing Knight Drive; the Mansion was to be demolished and the actual church built on that site, with a Sunday School building to occupy the area which is now the Redeemer Preschool. The Parish Hall was constructed in 1964 and was used as the church – much as it is today. Mortgage expenses and declining congregations prevented most of the other plans coming to fruition. During this time a small donkey was pastured on the grounds to keep the weeds down and the congregation was greatly distressed when the donkey died after three years of faithful service.
Father Beaumont was called to another church in 1965 and the Reverend Anderson was called to Redeemer. He, in turn, was succeeded by the Reverend Angus Dun in 1968, who was the first vicar to live in a house of his own – all the preceding vicars had lived in the mansion.
In 1973 Father Dunn resigned and the Reverend William “Buzz” Nern, an associate Priest at a church down the peninsula was called, in 1974, and served until 1986. During his tenure the church experienced significant growth – the pews were purchased to replace folding chairs and the road alongside the church and the parking lot were paved for the first time. The downstairs portion of the mansion was rented out to a Day Care provider and the upstairs converted to church offices.
At this time a portion of the East side of the property was subdivided into three lots and sold to help pay off the mortgage and to establish an endowment fund. In September 1979 Church of the Redeemer achieved Parish status – incorporation was established in 1980, and in 1981 the mansion was granted Historic Landmark status.
By 1986 the congregation was again in decline. Father Nern resigned in early 1986 and Bishop Swing recommended Father Jack Schanhaar as rector and he was so elected. By November 1992, although the congregation had gained some memberships, the Vestry petitioned the Diocese to allow it to return to mission status – and this was granted.
In the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake the mansion suffered damage and was red-tagged as unfit for public usage. Repairs were beyond the financial ability of the church so the Vestry also recommended that the mansion be sold and the proceeds used to build a new daycare/preschool facility as well as remodel the church to provide an office and a bathroom – which it didn’t have without the mansion! The mansion subsequently sold in the fall of 1994.
The sale of the mansion meant the closing of the Thrift Shop – which had been in continuous operation since 1961; a final “closeout” sale was held in October of 1994 with unsold merchandize being distributed to a variety of local charities. Construction of the daycare/preschool started, and it was soon apparent that the local stories about the “hill” being an Indian midden (refuse area/burial ground ) were true. Trenching for the utility access uncovered two complete Indian skeletons. Thanks to a lot of preplanning with, and cooperation of, local Miwok Tribe representatives, this turned out to be a positive for all of us. Archeologists removed the remains and Father Schanhaar and a Miwok Shamam conducted a joint prayer service, after which the remains were re-interred in a Tribal Burial ground.
With the mansion sold and the daycare/preschool not yet constructed Redeemer went through a period of joyous confusion. The church served as daycare/preschool five days a week and church on the weekends. Pews had to be removed and many volunteers moved folding chairs around several times a week. Trailers were pulled up alongside the church for construction headquarters as well as church offices and bathrooms. Planning, permitting, lot splitting, new driveways, designing and construction of the school took until mid-1995. After overseeing all of this, Father Schanhaar, deservedly elected retirement in July of 1996. Associate Priest, Mother Zoila Schoenbrun acted as Priest-in-Charge until the Reverend Barbara Bender Breck was called in December of that year. In 1999 Reverend Bender was called to a position at Grace Cathedral and the Reverend Jeremy Blodgett was selected, called and installed as the new spiritual leader.
Father Blodgett served until his retirement in 2003. He was a popular and innovative leader, not to mention an unrelenting delegator. His highest achievement, without question, was the successful initiation of the “Kid’s Church” service. He was ably assisted in this endeavor by Marian Gardiner and Billie Barbash Burton. This resulted in a welcome increase in attendance at Redeemer and certainly saved us from a looming financial crisis.
For the 2003 – 2004 period, the Reverend Mary Atwood was our relief Priest. She is a wonderfully spiritual person and many of the congregation would have happily called her as our permanent Priest-in-Charge, but Mary felt her strength and interest lay in Relief work and deferred from consideration.
Following Mary, the Reverend Carol Luther was called to be the Priest–in–Charge and she served with us from 2004. Carol had a number of strengths and personally lead a variety of Youth Group outings, including one to Alaska. She introduced many new programs with her high energy enthusiasm, but was slowly wearing herself out physically and spiritually.
In 2007 she decided to return to her prior position of Chaplain at St. Paul’s School in Oakland. During Carol’s tenure “Kid’s Church” continued to grow, but somewhat at the expense of the Rite II service. Overall attendance was roughly stable in this period.
We now come to Redeemer’s “period of instability” in which the Diocese supplied a number of temporary priests. Good permanent priest candidates seemed in short supply and the Diocese itself was going through the installation of a new Bishop. Unfortunately, most of these people were either available for short periods or carried some additional responsibilities at the Cathedral and we actually saw little of them except during Sunday Services.
So from 2007 – 2010 we had, in this order, Steve Hassett, Donald Schell, Mark Ruyak and lastly Whitney Roberson. Even this cadre couldn’t always make it on a Sunday and we filled in on more than one occasion with Donald Schell, Jim Ward, Skip Fotch, et al; all of whom we love and would have been better off just using them as available, anyway.
However, Mark Ruyak made one major contribution. In early 2009, he needled the Bishop’s Committee to stop talking about how nice it would be to have a labyrinth and actually get on and build one. John Westmoreland was “commissioned” to lead the effort. He spent six months on the design, permitting reviews, materials requisitions ( begging! ), a spiritual dowser to recommend location and alignment, raising some corporate matching funds, and contracting some labor. Paula Zand led the big fundraising effort and purchasing of the memorial bricks. Nick Clark and Jim Providenza were involved in the majority of the brickwork construction with help from Nellie & Mario Pamatmat and Matt Farhner. Our entire congregation, and some neighbors, worked weekends, under Jim’s guidance, to pour the gravels and the contouring dirt. The labyrinth opened to the public in November of 2009.
By 2010 the congregation was in pretty deep pain and declining fast. In frustration we had another “Search” and hired Joseph Lane. Unfortunately this turned out badly. Joseph was not the fit for our congregation that we had hoped for and, even more unfortunately he had a vocal chord problem that was impacting his speech and relatively shortly thereafter in 2011, was retired on full disability.
The Reverend Angela Guida stepped into the breach as yet another temporary, again ably assisted by Jim Ward, Skip Fotch, etc. from 2011 through mid-2012.
By this time even the Diocese was getting embarrassed by the revolving door situation at Redeemer and made us an outstanding offer. We could have the Reverend Molly Haws on a six month probation and then decide if we wanted to offer her the permanent position of Priest-in-Charge or conduct another search. Molly turned out to be an immediate success, and we hoped she would be with Redeemer for a long time. She was installed as Priest–in-Charge in early 2013. By mid-2016, however her personal situation demanded that she seek a full-time employment position, which Redeemer neither needed, nor could afford. It was with great disappointment that we bid Molly farewell at the end of September 2016.
Now faced, yet again, with finding a new Priest, we were relieved that the Diocese came to our rescue once more and sent the Rev. Daniel London to be our Long Term Supply Priest, during our search procedure.