In Memorium: Rev. Dr. Henry William Andersen,1925-2012

Rev. Dr. Henry W. Andersen
Hank Andersen


Rev. Dr. Henry William Andersen, a retired Presbyterian minister, died in Portland, Oregon on Sept. 3rd, surrounded by his beloved family.

Born on Jan. 16, 1925, in Omaha, Nebraska, he studied at the University of Nebraska before serving in the Army in WWII.

Hank was an infantry squad leader, and on Christmas Eve, 1944, he was on the troopship S.S. Leopoldville in the English Channel on the way to Cherbourg, France to fight in the Battle of the Bulge. He led a group of 15 or 20 soldiers to go up on the open deck to sing Christmas carols. A German torpedo struck the ship, killing many troops below deck before it sunk. A British destroyer pulled along the sinking ship. Andersen leapt across the gap, and his carol-singing comrades followed. Later on shore, an all-black unit fed and comforted the survivors. One of the carolers and thus saved from death was a Jewish man. This event is commemorated in a Dec. 23, 2011, PBS News Hour report.

This experience along with battle scars; a Purple Heart; and other citations changed the direction of his life from law to the ministry.

After the war, he returned to University of Nebraska, where he finished his undergraduate degree and met and married Mary Esther Dunkin, who survives him. He then went to McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, where he graduated with honors. Later Hank was on the Board of Trustees at McCormick, which established two annual Henry W. Andersen Awards in Pastoral Ministry and in Preaching. He did post-graduate study at Yale Divinity School and at Mansfield College, Oxford, England. He was awarded an honorary Doctor of Divinity Degree by Buena Vista College and received the University of Nebraska and McCormick Seminary Distinguished Alumnus awards.

Over the 40 years following seminary, Hank served four Presbyterian churches as pastor and head of staff: in Ellsworth and Wichita, Kan., LaGrange, Ill. and Cleveland Heights, Ohio. In every church he advocated for racial, economic and social justice. He believed that love and justice were inseparable, that love of God and love of one’s neighbor were necessary to establish a just world, and was committed to working for social change to create a world in which the poor would have justice, not mere charity. He held numerous local, national and international church positions and was active in the greater community.

He inspired international religious, medical and business leaders to work on concrete solutions to problems facing the developing world, and in 1982, he delivered the keynote address at a United Nations conference on developing nations. From 1982 until 1991, he served on the Nestle Infant Formula Commission, chaired by former Senator and Secretary of State Edmund Muskie. In service to this Commission, he engaged in on-site inspections of Nestle’s practices around the world. The Commission’s work led to a lasting change in Nestle’s practices.

Hank wrote many articles for religious journals and wrote and spoke on the German theologian and WWII martyr, Dietrich Bonheoffer, a personal hero. I was privileged to hear one such presentation in Minneapolis.

I got to know Hank and his wife, Mary, when they lived in Minneapolis and attended Westminster Presbyterian Church, where their son, Rev. Dr. Timothy Hart-Andersen, was the Senior Pastor.

I can attest that an obituary accurately said, “Hank loved life and sought to engage it fully and faithfully in every role he assumed. His sense of humor and wonderful laugh endeared him to everyone. He was present with each person he met and made each one feel special. He was sweet, kind, and gentle, but powerful for the greater good and for social justice. He was down-to-earth yet filled with an inner light which unceasingly radiated to all. His impact is lasting.”

He is survived by Mary, his wife of 65 years; children Jennifer (Rhys) of Vancouver, B.C.; Henry Thomas (Jessica) of Salem, Oregon; Timothy Dunkin (Elizabeth) of Minneapolis; and Barbara (John) of San Antonio, Texas; nine grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

A memorial worship service was held at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Portland, on September 15th. Other memorial services will be held at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church on Saturday, October 13 at 10 A.M. and on Saturday, October 20, time to be announced, at Fairmount Presbyterian Church, 2757 Fairmount Boulevard, Cleveland Heights, Ohio.

Memorial gifts may be sent to the Henry W. and Mary E. Andersen Global Awareness Fund at McCormick Theological Seminary, 5460 S. University Avenue, Chicago, IL, 60615. This fund helps the seminary increase opportunities for international students and provide all students with opportunities for cross-cultural experiences across the globe.

This obituary is drawn from others in Oregonlive, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the McCormick seminary website.



“How Do We Know God: Human Community”

Rev. Dr. Timothy Hart-Andersen
Westminster Presbyterian Church

On September 23rd, Rev. Dr. Timothy Hart-Andersen, Senior Pastor of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church, delivered the sermon with the above title.

How do we know God?

Two weeks ago we answered that question by looking at the story of Creation found in Genesis 1 [: 1-25]. The beauty and majesty and wonder of the natural world and its inhabitants, the creatures – all of that, we concluded, introduces us to the Creator. . . .

But the ancient Hebrew account of Creation doesn’t stop there, with the mountains and rivers, with the birds in the air and the creeping things on the earth and the fish of the sea. The old stories take us, eventually, to the creation of humankind.

There are two accounts of creation in the Hebrew Scriptures.

One of them, the better-known seven-day version in Genesis 1 [:1-25], ends with humankind being created in the image of God – ‘male and female, God created them,’ . . . – and that happens after . . . the heavens and the earth, next the waters and the dry land, then the plants and animals [are created]. . . .

[This passage in Genesis 1: 27-28 goes on to say that “God told them to ‘be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth [and subdue it] . . . . ‘ [This passage is often used  to argue that] “the very design of humanity . . . revealed God’s intention for male and female to procreate [and, therefore, that gay marriage was against God’s will.] . . . [Rev. Hart-Andersen agreed that] giving birth is a wonderful and necessary part of life, but there’s more to the biblical story of creation.

The second account [of creation], from Genesis 2, puts the human being on the earth before the plants and animals, and humanity does not come in a pair this time, but, rather, as a singular, non-gendered person. [As Genesis 2:7 puts it, ‘the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground.’]

[In other words,] God bends down and scoops up the dust of the earth – the Hebrew word for the dust of the ground is ha adamah – and, like an artist working with clay, God forms a new creature. Arms and legs and head, hands and feet, each little toe, every joint, eyes and mouth, ears and nose. Then God blows breath into the nostrils of the mud-creature – and ha adam, the earthling, the one made from the adamah, the dust of the river bank, stirs to life. God then uses the same soil to form the creatures of the earth, to whom the earthling, gives names. There is no gender identity to the earthling at this point. That enters later in the story, when the Hebrew changes to ish, man, and isha, woman. It’s simply not correct to use the English term man as the translation of adamah. . . .

I think it’s best to hear these texts not as technical descriptions but, rather, as stories told around the campfires of desert dwellers, repeated during rituals, shared by parents with their children. They’re narratives of profound and lasting significance, telling us who our God is and how God has been with us since before the beginning of time.

It’s not a question of which version is correct; there’s wisdom in both stories. Both accounts contain deep and ancient truth about God and our relationship to God. From my vantage point each of the old stories holds at least one deep truth.

First, in Genesis 1, when God decides to create the human being, the big news is who they look like. God says, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.” (Genesis 1:26)

The chief point of this account is not the business about being fruitful and multiplying – it’s the astonishing claim that every human being, male and female, is made in the image of God. That’s a breath-taking, life-altering declaration.

How do we know God?

Take a look around. Look into the face of another, look into a mirror, and you will see something of God. That claim revolutionizes religion: the God we worship and serve is as close to us as the next person. No one – not our enemies, not those who hate us, not those ‘on the other side,’  not those we despise or fear or view with revulsion – no one is excluded from the image of God. Everyone bears it alike and is, therefore, worthy of respect and honor. . . .

We may be introduced to God by the dazzling wonder of the natural world, but we know God most completely in our fellow human beings. That, above all else, should compel us to strive for fullness of life for all people. The pursuit of justice is not simply some vague prophetic imperative – it is how we come to know God.

If the linking of the divine image with every human life is the salient point of the first version of creation, the second account yields another great theological truth. When God has formed the one earthling and placed that creature in the garden, God is not satisfied. Everything else in creation up to then had been deemed good, but when God sees that the human creature lacks a companion, God says, “It is not good that the earthling should be alone; I will make the earthling a partner as a helper.” (Genesis 2:18)

The human creature needs a companion. God throws everything at the earthling as a possible partner – birds, beasts, fish of the sea, and nothing sticks. The earthling needs a companion of its own kind. The human creature is not meant to be alone. Human beings need community. Do we not all understand that, from our own experience?

Three weeks ago today, in the early morning darkness, I was in my father’s room on the skilled nursing floor of the retirement community where my parents live. I was alone with him, and lonely, as he was moving toward death. All was quiet, save for his raspy breathing. It was 1:30 in the morning in Portland, [Oregon,] but I needed to be in touch with someone.

It is not good for the earthling to be alone.

I decided to send a text message to my colleagues on staff, to tell them my dad was nearing the end. I knew they would be waking in a few hours to prepare for worship at Westminster and I wanted this community to include us in prayer that day.

[Tim immediately received a response that he had sent it to a wrong number, but the recipient also said that he was sorry to hear about Tim’s father.] We continued our texting back and forth, this stranger and I, for some time [until after his father’s death on September 5th].[1]

Whoever it was sensed I needed someone by my side, and he or she was willing to stand with me through those lonely hours. We were created to be in community, and I needed it that night. The stranger mediated for me the divine presence. How do we know God? We know God in human community, in the love that binds us to one another, even when we may not know each other. . . .

It is not good for the earthling to be alone.

The Sunday after my father’s death I received an email from our partner church in Matanzas, Cuba. . . . It was a very long email, with a string of personal messages from every member of the congregation who was there that day. Very few of them have access to email, and regular mail service to the U.S. is not reliable, so they patiently lined up in the church office and one by one typed in their words of love and support on that old, slow computer.

We come to know God through the love of others. . . .

It was a summary of the truth found in the two accounts of creation: we bear God’s image – because of God we are – and we are given each other – because of God we are one.

We cannot exist, God realizes in this account of Genesis, apart from one another. Here we see an early indication of God’s own Trinitarian nature – even the divine being exists only in community. Remember the Word that was in the beginning with God? The Spirit that brooded over the dark waters was there, too. “Let us make the human being in our image,” God says, “according to our likeness.”

Relationships matter; in them God looks back at us.”

The full text of the sermon is available online as is a video of the service.

[1] A subsequent post will set forth an obituary for Tim’s father, Rev. Dr. Henry William Andersen.