For decades, John Anderson, as a seminary student, chaplain, pastor, and denominational servant, served Presbyterian work in the United States. Now his alma mater, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Austin, Texas, is honoring him by providing new housing for its students.
John Anderson grew up in Dallas, Texas, in the 1930s, graduated from Highland Park High School in 1937. First Church, Dallas contributed greatly to his early formation. He received a BA from Austin College in Sherman, Texas, and enrolled in Union Theological Seminary in Virginia, where he was president of the student body before graduating in 1944. After two years as a U.S. Navy chaplain in WWII, Anderson began 38 years of service to churches in Texas and Florida, with nearly half of those years in two separate calls to his boyhood church. In 1953, while serving as senior pastor and head of staff at First Church, Dallas, Anderson earned the Master of Theology degree from Austin Seminary. He has served as an ordained minister for more than 60 years.
Anderson’s career has coincided with some of the most significant social upheavals in the United States, and he shepherded his flocks through the changes with courage, wisdom, and grace, an APTS statement noted. His voice is one of a healer and sense-maker in contentious situations, and his words to the church have the power to inspire and encourage greater self-awareness.
He has used his gifts in service to the denomination beyond his congregation, serving as executive secretary of the Board of National Ministries of the Presbyterian Church, U.S. from 1965-1973. He was elected moderator of the 122nd General Assembly of the PCUS in 1982, and was a major factor in making possible the union of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the statement adds.
Anderson’s interest in the students at Austin Seminary has been expressed in many ways over the years. The school recently announced that it will name the first phase of a new generation of student residences after him and his wife: the “John F. and Nancy Anderson House.”
The housing concept goes beyond shelter, according to APTS President Theodore J. Wardlaw. “Austin Seminary is reinvesting in a model that is based on the core value that seminary education is not just about information, it’s also about formation,” he said. “The point is that virtually every square inch of this twelve-acre campus is, at any moment’s notice, potentially a classroom.”
Anderson values campus formation for seminary students. “Austin Seminary is not only training the mind, it is getting people to work together,” he says. “A minister has to be, above everything else, a people person. If you haven’t learned the give and take to appreciate different ideas and different views of life, you have really missed something important.”
“When you have a group experience, not only do you hear the professors and read the books — and we had to read books by the ton — but you have a chance to bounce ideas off of each other, and therefore, it’s vital,” he added. “I always felt sorry for the fellows who lived off campus. Even though they were part of the community, they missed something very important. I learned as much from listening to the other fellows in dormitories as I did from listening to the professors.”
The Anderson name will join others on campus–Stitt, McCord, and Currie, for example–as a daily reminder of those whose lives exemplify the leadership and pastoral characteristics the church needs.
After his years of both theological study and in-the-trenches church work, Anderson gave the following advice to Wardlaw as they both looked at what was in store for Austin students.
“Send us preachers who aren’t boring.”