Redeemer Lutheran church to add mental-health services as part of $4M renovation
Every week on Urban Spelunking, Radio Milwaukee’s Nate Imig and OnMilwaukee’s Bobby Tanzilo dig into the buildings and architectural features that help retain the city’s sense of history while it builds for the future.
This week, we're live on-site at Redeemer Lutheran, a gorgeous 1915 gothic revival church unique for not only it's architecture, but also its urban ministry.
Unlike most urban churches, it's congregation is growing, and with that expansion it seeks to raise $4 million for a transformational renovation. The project will address much-needed structural and exterior repairs, and will also add upgrades to its kitchen and community spaces. But the most innovative component of the plan is the permanent addition of mental-health services, right inside the church at 631 N. 19th St.
“The groundbreaking [occurred] at the site where a really catalytic thing happened for us,” says Rev. Dr. Lisa Bates-Froiland. “It started with tragedy, and it's becoming more and more hopeful all the time.
“On March 29, 2019, a man named Johnny Smith, who had nowhere else to sleep, was sleeping on the east steps. And a man who had been at the Rescue Mission left the mission in the early hours of the morning, and voices told him that he should take the life of whoever he encountered. And so Johnny Smith tragically lost his life on our steps.”
Those steps will be demolished and replaced as part of the renovation, while counselors will be on hand inside to serve those dealing with mental illness, particularly those who are undiagnosed.
Bobby and I visited the church for a tour and sat down with Bates-Froiland to learn more about her approach to an urban ministry. We learned of the church's role in elevating voices of dissent during the Vietnam War, particularly at The Coffee House, as well as Mayor Frank Zeidler's connection to the congregation.
During our tour, we went into church basement ("the dungeon," as Rev. Bates-Froiland called it with a laugh), explored the community spaces and kitchen, checked out the skylight room (pictured below) and ended our tour in the main sanctuary.
Listen to this episode, and visit OnMilwaukee for even more history and photos.