Bishop Robert M. Anderson dies at 77

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May 3, 2011

The Rt. Rev. Robert Marshall Anderson, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota from 1978 to 1993 and a former assisting bishop in the Diocese of Los Angeles, died May 3 in Minneapolis of pancreatic cancer. He was 77.

A memorial service will be held on Monday, May 9, at 11 a.m. at St. Mark's Cathedral, 519 Oak Grove Street, Minneapolis. The family has asked that clergy attend but not vest. A reception will follow at the Woman's Club, 410 Oak Grove Street, Minneapolis.

Interment will be at the columbarium at the Cathedral Center of St. Paul in Los Angeles at a later date. Plans for a memorial service in the Diocese of Los Angeles are pending.

Many of his fellow bishops and others paid tribute to Anderson as word of his death spread.

"The Episcopal Church has lost a great soul. Bishop Anderson prodded and led this church in the midst of many highly significant concerns. He was a leader in developing effective responses to sexual misconduct," said Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. "He was a tireless advocate for Native Americans throughout his ministry. I have powerful memories of his account of a labor action in Southern California, when marchers left bitter herbs in front of hotels who weren't treating their workers with dignity and justice. He told the story filled with both outrage at the injustice and glee at the creative response. That combination of passion and joy characterized his ministry. We will miss his prophetic voice and presence, but I am sure his ministry will continue to resound among us -- and probably in the heavenly courts. May he rest in peace and rise in glory, and may all those who mourn find comfort. He has joined the communion of saints."

"I love Bob Anderson, and I cherish him as a mentor throughout my years of episcopacy," Bishop Diocesan J. Jon Bruno of the Diocese of Los Angeles said May 3. "This morning, here at clergy conference, I awoke to the phone ringing and a call from Brian Prior, bishop of Minnesota, letting me know that Bob had died. As I prepared for the day I decided that in honor of Bob I would wear a red shirt symbolizing the Holy Spirit, and a white jacket representing the Resurrection and this Easter season in which Bob has died in the hope of knowing that Christ is risen indeed."

"Bob was so important to me," said Bishop Chester Talton, who retired as bishop suffragan of Los Angeles in 2010 and is now serving as provisional bishop of the Diocese of San Joaquin. "I got to know him years ago when he was a candidate for bishop of Minnesota, and he became my bishop in a way no bishop had been up until that time. He was just a wonderful, caring person. The contributions he made to the life of the Episcopal Church were wonderful."

"Throughout my years in the Episcopal Church, Bob has been a trusted mentor and friend. He has always been a considerate, warm, supportive and encouraging presence in my life. When I was elected bishop of Minnesota, Bob was among the first to call with his congratulations," said Prior. He so loved the Episcopal church in Minnesota and was excited to participate in the consecration. When he and Mary moved back to Minnesota, I had the honor of spending many hours with them as they prepared for this next part of their journey. Both Staci and I extend our deepest sympathies to Mary and their entire family and hold gratitude in our hearts for having the honor of knowing both of them for so many years."

"Bob Anderson was the kindest and most gracious of predecessors," said James Jelinik, retired bishop of the Diocese of Minnesota. "He wanted me to serve well because he loved this diocese and this church so much. He was a man of vision, courage, mission and passion, all undergirded by his rich spirituality -- a faith grounded in the unfailing generosity of God as lived out in Jesus Christ. Bob's legacy includes the growth in the diversity of this diocese with a special commitment to Indian ministry, the development of programs and procedures of Safe Church, the inclusion of women in all aspects of ministry, the investment in our corporate spirituality in building the House of Prayer and its ministry and a strong, clear, and consistent witness for social justice. He served God in this church with uncommon distinction as a bishop for over 30 years. We have a lot to celebrate in his life, with gratitude to Bob and to God for giving him to us."

As bishop of Minnesota, Anderson oversaw 126 parishes and missions as well as the construction of a diocesan House of Prayer on the grounds of St. John's Benedictine Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota. He also served as a representative to the Consultation on Church Union and made Native American ministries a priority. He helped write clergy discipline and misconduct guidelines and placed women, gay and lesbian clergy in church leadership positions.

He was awarded a doctor of divinity degree from Yale University in 1977; a year later the Seabury Western Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, recognized him with an honorary doctor of divinity degree. He attended four meetings of the Lambeth Conference.

Anderson retired from the Los Angeles diocese in 2008 after 47 years of ministry. At that time, the Anderson and his wife, Mary Artemis Evans Anderson, took up permanent residence in the couple's 130-year-old Door County, Wisconsin, farmhouse.

In Los Angeles, Anderson served as area bishop to congregations in Orange County and the Inland Empire from 1995-1998, assisting Bishop Diocesan Frederick H. Borsch. He returned in 2002 at the invitation of Diocesan Bishop J. Jon Bruno. During his Los Angeles service, he made pastoral visits to nearly all of the diocese's 147 congregations.

In between he had served as an associate at the Church of the Holy Spirit, a large, active congregation in Lake Forest, Illinois.

The hallmark of Anderson's distinguished ministry was the baptismal covenant, and he developed a reputation for promoting wellness and renewal. 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.

Anderson frequently summarized his ministry in three words: the baptismal covenant. "I tell congregations, this is our common life, our work together," he said in 2008 when he retired. "It's what I speak about almost every time I go to a church," he added, emphasizing the promises to strive for justice and peace and to respect the dignity of every human being.

Anderson distinguished himself as a collegial leader of great spiritual depth, a compassionate pastoral presence and a champion of lay empowerment. In 1996, he became the second recipient of the Colman J. Barry Award for Distinguished Contributions to Religion and Society, a prestigious award presented by St. John's University in Minnesota.

Robert Anderson was born Dec. 18, 1933, to Arthur and Hazel Anderson and while growing up at Christ Church, Staten Island, had no inkling he would be a priest, much less a bishop.

A high school basketball player and athlete, he graduated from Colgate University in upstate New York in 1955. He said his understanding of Asian culture grew while he served in the U.S. Army's 24th Infantry Division in Korea from 1955-1956.

He enrolled in the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale University and was awarded a Danforth fellowship to serve for a year as a college chaplain at Northwestern University in Evanston. There he met Mary Artemis Evans, a Minneapolis native and history and English senior. They were married Aug. 24, 1960, and returned to New Haven where Mary taught school for a time and he completed his final year of seminary at Berkeley, graduating cum laude in 1961.

He was ordained a deacon June 13, 1961, and a priest on April 1, 1962. He served several Connecticut congregations, including stints as curate (1961-1963) and later as associate rector (1968-1972) at historic St. John's Church, Stamford. He also served as vicar of a yoked parish, Christ Church, Middle Haddam, and St. John's, East Hampton, from 1963-1968.

In 1972, the family headed west to Salt Lake City, Utah, when he was called as dean of St. Mark's Cathedral. He was elected the seventh bishop of Minnesota and consecrated Feb. 11, 1978. At the time of his election he was the youngest bishop in the Episcopal Church. By the time he retired, he was the second-longest serving bishop in the Anglican Communion.

Survivors include his wife of 50 years, Mary Artemis Evans Anderson, and three daughters; Martha Anderson (Paul Lehman), Elizabeth (Magnus) Kempe, Catherine (William) Gregg; son Thomas Robert (Lea) Anderson; grandchildren Quinn, Simon and Benjamin Lehman; William, Charlotte Mary and Jonathan Gregg; Olivia Kempe and Winter Rose Anderson; sister-in-law Susan C. Evans, and brother-in-law Tom (Lorraine) Evans, two nieces and a nephew.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Department of Indian Work with the Episcopal Church in Minnesota, 1730 Clifton Place, #201, Minneapolis, MN 55403; The House of Prayer, P.O. Box 5888 Collegeville, MN 56321, or to St Mark's Cathedral, 519 Oak Grove Street, Minneapolis, MN.

-- Bob Williams is canon for community relations for the Diocese of Los Angeles. The Rev. Pat McCaughan is correspondent for Episcopal News Service. Janet Kawamoto, editor of The Episcopal News of the Diocese of Los Angeles and Wendy Johnson, missioner for communications for the Diocese of Minneapolis, contributed to this story.