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An Extraordinary Saint

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Remembering Rev. Richard Andersen

1946-2019

A Creator of Things. Richard and I met in an Irish bar on the Riverwalk in San Antonio in 1992.  Neither one of us was Irish nor from Texas, but a work conference and a night of frivolity brought us together to sing drunken Irish tunes.  What we did have in common was having Midwest roots, strong spiritual backgrounds, and being gay men.

At the time, we were both financial advisors for the same company, struggling to build viable practices that served clients in the greater Lutheran community based on a model of care and generosity.  I remember traveling to O’Hare at the end of another work conference in Chicago, when I picked his brain for ideas of how to organize and build my business.   I focused on him, I think, because I knew he was smart, yet more importantly, he was wise.  I was seeking guidance, not just ideas.

Sometime in the following year, his wisdom, along with vision from his business partner, culminated in a handshake where my life partner, Brian and I became business partners.  From that weekend on I referred to Richard as my “Buddha” or “wise-guy”.  He had a quality of knowing, yet with deep humility.  

Any of you who spent time with him know he was good hearted and engaging, but you probably also came to see his handy work as well.  He built things – walls, roofs, buildings, things of substance.  Kind of macho things when I think about it.  He knew how to use a hammer, as they say.

He also created other kinds of things:  beautiful healthy food, usually Danish, connections with countless people, and amazing support for the institutions he loved.  His creative spirit drew people together.  He was an attractor, as I call it.

His ability to attract others made him an ideal board member.  Thus, he served the ELM board for many years.  I don’t think of him as one who was at the forefront of the movement for sexual equality within the ELCA or greater church, but one who supported and advised those who were.  There was something about his natural traditional sense that didn’t put him out front on this issue.  The arc of his own public coming out supports this idea.  He grew into his role as an ordained, gay Lutheran servant.  It took time.  He described the journey this way:  “My life has revolved around being gay and acknowledging my call to serve the church.”

On a walk in the Italian woods in Tuscany, we had a talk about the end of our lives, what would it be like, where did we hope our lives would be at the final point?  I remember discussing the desire to be “all used up”, having it all “left on the road” as a runner would say.  Richard’s sudden death this summer was stunning, it felt too soon.  He seemed to be at the apex of his knowledge and sense of serving the world.  He was lovingly walking through the days with his now husband, Patrick.  It was good.

And then God said, it is finished. 

Richard had told me of a visit with his own father at his deathbed many years earlier.  His father, a good Dane, of course, and also a Lutheran pastor, was ministering to his son, Richard at that dying moment.  He said, Richard, I love you, but most importantly, in your baptism, remember you are a beloved child of God. 

Its easy to love an attractor, they are made for it.  It’s harder to say goodbye to one such as this, for the connection, the glue that binds us, is so strong.  Yet, just as Richard’s father reminded him, we are called to who we really are in our baptism, and we know we will not ever really have to say farewell.

Pictured Left to Right: Brian Richards, Rev. Richard Andersen, Patrick Burns, Greg Jahnke)

Greg Jahnke is a wealth advisor with Thrivent Financial and resides with his husband, Brian Richards in San Francisco.  They are active members of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church.  They are both appreciative of all the efforts that have brought the church to its present stance on sexual minority issues.  They too hope to PROCLAIM God’s goodness by welcoming everyone fully into the life of the church.  In 2020 they will retire and move to Ashland, OR.

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