A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 7, in the sanctuary of First Church, Dallas, Texas.
John was born May 27, 1920, in Dallas, Texas, the town that grew up alongside him and helped shape his ministry and his life. He is survived by his wife, Nancy, to whom he was happily married for 65 years; his sister, Maurine Witte; his children, Bill, Paul, and Becky; six grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. Aside from his love of the Lord and the church, John Anderson loved his family more than they will ever know.
He was a graduate of Austin College in Sherman, Texas, and Union Theological Seminary (now Union-PSCE) in Richmond, Va. He earned a Th.M. from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Austin, Texas.
He also loved his country. John served as a navy chaplain during World War II assigned to the Second Marine Division in Saipan, Okinawa, and Japan and, like many of Tom Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation,” came home and helped start the baby boom generation. He also began a long and illustrious career of pastoral and ecclesiastical leadership. He was twice pastor of First Church, Dallas: 1952-1958, and 1973-84, when he became pastor emeritus. He was pastor of First Church, Orlando, Fla., 1958-1965.
Four words and phrases describe the man and his ministry: Preacher, Churchman, Fund-raiser and finally, Mentor and Friend.
First, he was a Preacher. John Anderson could command a room better than anyone. He took charge from the moment he began speaking and had your attention until the very last word. I first heard him preach at a presbytery meeting in Richmond, Va., in the 1970s when I was a young professor at Union Seminary. I was overwhelmed with his passion for the Gospel, his booming voice, and his disarming sense of humor, never imagining that I would follow him at First Church, Dallas just seven years later.
John was not one who “preached on his heels.” Instead, he always leaned forward like a sailor on the bow of the ship giving orders, and you’d better listen. His was an informal, in-your-face style of delivery that drew you in from the beginning. Little wonder he was invited to preach at conferences both here and abroad as well as on the “Protestant Hour” nationwide. In addition, his services in Dallas were broadcast live to hundreds of thousands every third Sunday across the state of Texas. John also “communicated the gospel” through his very popular and down-to-earth weekly religion articles in both the Dallas Morning News (1954-58 and 1974-84) and the Orlando Sentinel (1958-65).
Second, he was a Churchman. John Anderson was a great leader and pastor, not only at the presbytery and synod levels, but nationally and ecumenically. From 1965-73, he served as executive secretary of the Board of National Ministries of the Presbyterian Church, US. Then in 1982, he was elected as the last moderator of the 122nd General Assembly of the PCUS before reunion of the northern and southern wings of the Presbyterian Church.
John was a key mover in helping make reunion a reality. At the congregational level, he was senior pastor of First Church, Tyler, Texas; First Church, Orlando; and First Church, Dallas, his boyhood church. Wherever John served, he challenged the members to be involved in the world and the neighborhood. The Community Ministries program that began during his second tenure at First Church, Dallas is one of the largest and most effective social justice ministry programs in the nation. First Church has always been involved in global missions thanks to John’s leadership. Ecumenically, John served as president of Greater Dallas Community of Churches. In retirement, he was Interim pastor at First Church, Midland, Texas; Preston Hollow Church, Dallas; First Church, Houston; Shadyside Church, Pittsburgh, Pa., and Skidaway Island Church, Savannah, Ga.
Third, he was a Fund-raiser. People used to say, “Here comes John — hold on to your wallet!” But, even with this reputation, he could still help people see the joy of giving to whatever cause he happened to be peddling. He raised money for Montreat Conference Center, global missions, children’s homes, denominational agencies, a chapel in a Bible school in Taiwan, and seminaries in Korea. You name it — John could raise money for it. In fact, all the schools John attended, Austin College, Union Seminary (Va.), and Austin Seminary, loved having him or his name associated with their capital campaigns. It added to their coffers just to have him involved. He once told me, “Bill, if you’re still in Dallas when I go, and you do my funeral, the text you should use is, ‘The beggar has died!’” Of course, I am no longer in Dallas, but this leads to my last point.
He was a great Mentor and Friend. A better predecessor a pastor could never have. John Anderson set the gold standard on how to treat your successor. Every single day I felt his prayerful support and encouragement. Two months before he retired, he was visiting a woman who’d known him his whole life. She said, “John, you have to bury me, I helped raise you!” John’s reply was, “Lady, you better hurry up and die; I’m going to be gone in two months.” In addition to my father, John taught me nearly everything I know about parish ministry like the trick of having your administrative assistant call someone and say, “The Pastor would like to visit with you this afternoon” and not say what it was about. By the time the pastor got there, the church members were so worried they’d done something wrong, John would ask them to run the stewardship program and out of sheer relief they’d say “yes” before they realized it!
One day John and I were walking through the narthex of First Church, Dallas, and I commented on the marble plaques of former pastors including his grandfather and his uncle. I asked, “How do you get your name on a plaque?” to which John replied, “You have to die to get a plaque!” Well, John, I guess now you’ll get your plaque. Good-bye, dear friend. We will miss you greatly but we will see you again in eternity.
William J. Carl III is President of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and former Pastor of First Church, Dallas.