By Cathy Norman Peterson
CHICAGO, IL (June 26, 2014) — Craig E. Anderson, retired pastor and associate superintendent of the Central Conference, was honored with the Irving C. Lambert Award this evening at the opening service of the Covenant’s 129th Annual Meeting.
Each year the award is given to a Covenanter whose life and practices reflect a deep commitment to urban or ethnic ministry. President Gary Walter presented the award.
To watch video of the presentation, click the play button on the video below. Anderson was unable to travel to Chicago due to health reasons. His daughter Dawn and granddaughter, Stephanie, received the award on his behalf.
Anderson served as pastor and then co-pastor of Oakdale Covenant Church in Chicago in the midst of significant cultural upheaval. Amid the national societal turmoil that included riots following the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., Oakdale was on the forefront of developing racially integrated local church ministry in the Covenant.
White residents were moving out of the South Side neighborhood yet, Anderson wrote in a 1968 issue of The Covenant Companion, at Oakdale “the races are being drawn together rather than being torn apart. We are building bridges of understanding rather than perpetuating the barriers of prejudice.”
Within a year of his arrival, the church’s Summer Action Clubs brought in scores of children to the church, and the number of black members continued to grow. He added confirmation classes, a Cub Scout pack, a junior choir, and a junior basketball team—all of them integrated—to an already vast array of church ministries to children and their families.
But he was aware that the church was still perceived as “white” by people living in the neighborhood, which had grown to 95 percent black. So in 1969 he advocated for a black co-pastor at Oakdale, writing to the conference, “Though we are fully integrated, we still project a generally white image to our community. A majority of members who are white, a white minister, a worship pattern that reflects white culture, a denomination that is virtually unheard of in the black community—these factors tend to perpetuate this image, and therefore make more difficult community identification with the congregation.”
Recognizing the church’s need to serve its community, he wrote, “Under the mandate of the gospel, we want to witness by our very existence that blacks and whites, born again by the Spirit of God, can live and work together in the mutual ministry Christ has given us. As well, the Covenant Church as a whole will be enriched by the increased presence of black Christians.”
The Central Conference agreed with him and provided funds to hire black co-pastor Willie Jemison in 1970. In the ensuing years the church thrived and experienced phenomenal growth.
Anderson went on to pastor churches in Menominee, Michigan, and Berkeley, California, before returning to Chicago to serve as pastor of Edgebrook Covenant Church. As the award reads, “Craig’s deep faith and quiet confidence in God’s compassionate love have carried him into places of need where he has been an unwavering voice for justice and righteousness in issues of race, class, gender, and poverty. In his pastoral role, wherever he served, Craig worked tirelessly toward peace and reconciliation.”
In 1988, Anderson became associate superintendent of the Central Conference, where he served until he retired in 2002. Herb Freedholm, who was superintendent, describes Anderson’s ministry, saying, “Craig was called both to share with me in the duties of the superintendent, but more specifically in the conference’s long-standing commitment to urban and ethnic ministry. He and I shared a deep commitment to issues of justice and reconciliation, but Craig was the one who gave strong leadership to the expansion of urban and ethnic ministry in the conference.”
Freedholm credits Anderson with the increase in incorporating African American churches into the conference, as well as the growth of the number of Hispanic and Korean churches. He adds, “It was under his leadership that we both felt strongly that the conference staff had to reflect the diversity of the conference, which led to the calling of Rev. Jerome Nelson to our staff, and ultimately to Jerome’s call to become superintendent upon my retirement. The Central Conference was the first conference to take that step in its leadership!”
Anderson served on the boards of Wellspring, Barnabas Project, Chicago Metro Mission Board, and Swedish Covenant Hospital. Currently he serves on the board of the Warner Sallman Art Collection. He lives in Punta Gorda, Florida, with his wife, Dotty.
The certificate concludes, “With overwhelming compassion and persistent advocacy, Craig has been the hands, feet, and heart of Jesus to a broken and hurting world. As a consummate pastor and servant of the church, his love and care for all people, his abiding love for his wife, Dotty, and their family, and his deep love for Christ, make him a friend to all and a stranger to none. His life stands as a witness to us all, exemplifying the early Pietists’ standard, ‘for God’s glory and neighbor’s good.’”