A Sanctuary Built on Faith, Hope and Love
“Our ambition has been to build a church of such excellence that it would be truly a glory to God and would result in a person saying, I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the House of the Lord.” Those words were written by Pastor John R. Brokhoff in 1952, the guiding light of the whole process that led to the construction of the architectural gem that is the sanctuary of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Midtown Atlanta.
It is especially meaningful to look at the beauty of each element of this holy place of worship in these times of pandemic, since few people can actually go inside to see it in person now. Just looking and learning about the symbolism and love on display in the church can help give us peace and a deeper connection to God, just when we need it most. Even if you have been inside many times, you may learn new things and come to a deeper appreciation of the people who make up Redeemer, as well as the beauty and symbolism of the physical building.
- The Pastor, the Architect and Artists
Due to tremendous growth in membership after World War II and overflow crowds that came to hear the preaching of Pastor John R. Brokhoff, Redeemer began plans for a larger sanctuary about 1950. Under Pastor Brokhoff’s leadership the building committee selected Harold Wagoner of Philadelphia as the architect. Wagoner was one of the most renowned church architects of the 1950’s and 1960’s. His other noteworthy works include the U S Air Force Academy Chapel in Colorado Springs, CO.
Similarly, Redeemer chose America’s premier stained glass maker, Henry Willet Studios, also of Philadelphia, to design and create the magnificent windows. It is important to note that the stained glass windows are in chronological order from left to right beginning on the north side. The north side windows depict the life of Christ. The south side windows feature landmark Christians through the ages. The Great Redemption Window over the altar brings together Old Testament Prophets and the events of Holy Week, Good Friday, Easter, Pentecost and Jesus’ Ascension. The rose window at the top features the central image of the Lamb of God and seven doves in each of the seven petals of the rose, symbolic of the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit.
The incredible wood carvings were all done by George Ciukurescu. Pastor Brokhoff provided the symbolic input that led to the amazing finished product that has the feel of a gothic cathedral. The sanctuary was dedicated and opened in 1952.
All of the carvings, windows and furnishing center around the theme of Redemption. “To proclaim the Redeeming Gospel to the world is the ever-present task of the Church,” says the dedication book for Redeemer’s sanctuary.
- The Outside Front Stained Glass Cross
The stained glass cross window in front of the church announces the theme of Redeemer. “It is an announcement and testimony to the world as it goes by on historic Peachtree Street that this is a congregation believing in, worshipping and serving Jesus Christ the Crucified,” declares Pastor Brokhoff in his description. The vivid blue window, with its uniquely short horizontal bar and extremely long vertical base, communicates that Redeemer is not afraid to be different and make a unique witness of love, grace and service.
- The Red Doors
Inscribed over the main entrance is the invocation used at the beginning of each worship, “In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost.” The main double doors are adorned with bronze Maltese crosses and colored a rich red. These red doors symbolize the blood of Christ. Redeemer is believed to be the first church in Atlanta to have red doors at its main entrance. For a while in Atlanta it was known as the church with the red doors.
- The Narthex
On the north wall of the entryway, called the narthex, is a bronze signature plaque. It features the architect’s name, the pastor and the names of the building committee that served from 1951-52. It’s noteworthy that a woman, Nina Bliem, served on this committee, as a pioneer and model for church leadership. Nina was also a children’s choir director and Sunday School teacher, who was a landmark Christian in her own right and an inspiration for the future.
On the south wall is the Salzburger Plaque and Bricks. This plaque gives testimony to the brave Lutherans who were forced from their homes in Austria because of their faith and settled in Georgia in 1734. Some of their descendants have been members of Redeemer throughout its history. It also recognizes Jerusalem Lutheran Church near Savannah, the oldest continuously used church building in the state of Georgia. Jerusalem Church donated the historic bricks hand made by the Salzburger Lutherans ( from Salzburg, Austria) to honor our Georgia Lutheran ancestors.
The Ichthus Medalion is a circular bronze plaque featured in the floor of the narthex, including the Greek letters Iota, Chi, Theta, Upsilon and Sigma. It also bears the image of a fish, since the Greek letters make up the word for fish. The word Ichthus is an anagram for the words ” Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior.” It is an ancient secret symbol Christians used to mark their loved one’s graves and to recognize one another to avoid persecution by the Roman Empire. Surrounding the central image are symbols of the twelve apostles.
- The Nave and Pews
Redeemer’s sanctuary is designed around a central aisle with pews on both sides. Soaring arches on both sides lead to the stunning stained glass windows described earlier. Carved on each end of the oak pews are a series of five crosses: The Latin, Tau, Greek, St. Andrew’s and Maltese. On the front of the balcony, lining up with the center aisle, is Luther’s Coat of Arms in color, carved in relief. This dramatic placement declares the central role of Martin Luther’s theology of grace through faith.
On the north side of the Nave is the pulpit with its carving of the life of Martin Luther depicted in nine low relief carvings. The final panel includes the first notes of “A Mighty Fortress” carved in wood. The front of the pulpit features words from Jeremiah the Prophet. ” O Earth, Earth, Earth. Hear the Word of the Lord.”
On the stone arch to the right of the steps leading to the pulpit is carved the dramatic, Biblical request from Gentiles ( non Jews) to the Disciples, “Sir, we would see Jesus.” How appropriate for a church that welcomes all people to hear a word of God’s grace and love.
On the south side of the Nave is the elaborate Baptismal Font and Lectern. Carved in the front of the lectern are words from John 17:17: “Thy Word is Truth.” The Baptismal Font has eight sides, because the number eight has long been a symbol of regeneration. The stone base is carved with a scallop shell, which symbolizes the Holy Spirit, as present when John the Baptist used a similar shell.
The wood carvings on the Baptismal Font are rich with symbolism, briefly explained here:
- Five Pointed Star – the human nature of Christ, fulfilling prophesy of his rising like a star from the ancestral line of King David
- The Good Shepherd – one of the oldest Christian symbols of Christ caring for his lambs
- Hand of God – represents God the Father
- Sevenfold Flame – recalls the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit
- Eight Pointed Star – symbolizes rebirth and regeneration through Baptism
- The Descending Dove – Symbolizes the Holy Spirit, coming down to humankind during Baptism. This carving is the only known mistake in Redeemer’s sanctuary furnishings. The dove is incorrectly shown ascending.
- The Chancel and Altar
- Symbolic Numbers in the design