The life and ministry of the Rt. Rev. Robert Marshall Anderson, 77, was celebrated May 16 at the Cathedral Center of St. Paul before an overflow gathering of several hundred from across the six-county Los Angeles diocese.
Anderson, who died May 3 in Minneapolis, was remembered as a great bishop, priest, mentor, and an ardent defender of the faith who fought to make the church safer and more inclusive.
But most of all, he was remembered as a husband, father and grandfather whom his family “shared with the church,” said the Rev. Howard Anderson (no relation), rector of St. Matthew’s Church in Pacific Palisades, who served as homilist.
“Mary, you were the love of Bob’s life,” he told Anderson’s wife of 50 years, Mary Artemis Evans. She shared with the gathering one of the late bishop’s favorite poems, “Us Two” from the Winnie the Pooh series by A.A. Milne, about fearlessness and chasing away dragons.
“Bob knew how to say boo to dragons,” Anderson told the gathering. The late bishop was among those “who took the hits we should have taken to make the church safer and to open the doors to those who were not let in,” he added.
In a sermon addressed primarily to Winter Rose, the Andersons’ young granddaughter, the late bishop’s memory was recalled in the three words he believed summed up his 47 years of ordained ministry: God is love.
“One of the things he would always tell people is God is love,” Howard Anderson said, reprising a blessing the late bishop often sang when visiting congregations in the Southland’s Orange County and Inland Empire areas. “For a long time as bishop he would sing this when he went to churches: ‘God is love and we who believe in God believe in love. For God is love,’” Anderson sang. “So if they didn’t get it in the sermon they might get it in the song.”
Anderson was also a contemplative, a mystic and a great spiritual presence whose many gifts included healing prayer and the ability to “slow-dance with God,” Howard Anderson said. He also frequently invoked three other words as the hallmark of his distinguished ministry: the baptismal covenant.
The Staten Island, New York-born Anderson, whose ministry spanned five decades, paid “deep attention to the injustice of the world” and was “a great and fearless champion of those who had no voice” including women, gay and lesbian clergy. He was also an ardent supporter of Native American ministry, earning him the nickname ‘Straight Tongue’ for his honesty and truthfulness while serving as Minnesota bishop, Howard Anderson said.
“He served Christ first. He was able to love even those he disagreed with and I watched him do it,” he added.
Bob Anderson also developed a reputation for promoting renewal and wellness. Nationally, he served as a faculty member for the Church Pension Group-sponsored CREDO, which offers clergy and laity an eight-day opportunity to examine various aspects of their lives and to prayerfully discern future vocation.
After an initial three-year stint as assisting bishop in Los Angeles (1995-1998), Anderson relocated to Lake Forest, Illinois, to serve as associate rector at Church of the Holy Spirit. He returned to the Southland in 2002 at the invitation of Bishop Jon Bruno, serving with Bishop Suffragan Chester L. Talton and Bishop Assistant Sergio Carranza, both of whom attended the memorial service. When Anderson retired in 2008 he had visited nearly all of the diocese’s 147 congregations.
Bruno, who presided over the memorial service, has said that Anderson “was not only loving, but strong and wise and helped him learn the art of bishoping,” Howard Anderson told the gathering. When elected Bishop of Minnesota in 1978, he was the youngest bishop in the Episcopal Church; when he retired in 2008 he was the second longest-serving active bishop in Anglican Communion, Anderson noted.
But, amid laughter and tears, an intimate portrait of the late bishop emerged, including “that he loved to vacuum and thought he was really good at it … that he’d read every Louis L’Amour novel and knew everything about the Wild West … that he set off fireworks and would run and hide when they went off,” Howard Anderson said.
Mary Anderson shared a favorite reading of her late husband’s, “Us Two” by A.A. Milne, from the Winnie-the-Pooh tales, a poem about chasing away dragons.
A high school basketball player and athlete who loved sports and bird-watching, Anderson’s tender side emerged with a favorite nickname for his daughters — “Dear Heart.”
“He meant it. He’ll call you ‘dear heart.’ You may not hear it but he’ll be saying it your whole life,” Howard Anderson told Winter Rose.
Before Easter he paid a visit to his long-time friend and mentor in Minneapolis, Howard Anderson said.
“We talked, laughed and cried,” he told the gathering, adding that both knew it would be their last visit together. “The last thing he said to me was ‘see you on the other side’. He wasn’t the least bit afraid to die. He told me ‘I know how the Easter story ends, in love and life.”
During that visit, the bishop said he thought life in the spirit would be like a reunion he’d had with a great uncle in Sweden years earlier. His great uncle greeted him shouting, “Welcome home, Arthur’s son.“
A private internment at the Cathedral Center columbarium followed the service. Afterwards, the gathering was invited to share more stories about Bishop Bob Anderson at a reception.
An extensive obituary about the life and ministry of Bishop Anderson is available here.