Chris Anderson has a long history of working with people from different backgrounds who find themselves in a variety of stressful and tragic circumstances.
Maybe what makes him so good at it is the variety in his own life, and the personal tragedy he has also faced.
Anderson is a retired Lutheran pastor and U.S. Army Special Forces chaplain. He jumped out of airplanes with paratroopers, taught scuba diving lessons, served on the Anacortes School Board and was a Boy Scouts leader.
Anderson grew up in Anacortes, but life took him around the globe. Since he recently stepped down as the chaplain coordinator for Island Hospital, he devotes his time to his many hobbies and works on the landscaping in front of the home near Cranberry Lake Park that he shares with his wife, Jeanne.
A short walk through his study reveals artifacts of Anderson’s past.
A banjo, trombone, two guitars and two slender wooden spears occupy one corner. On the wall above hangs a frame containing Anderson’s Special Forces dagger. On the opposite wall is a photograph of Anderson as a child, sitting with his father in a field, and on the floor beneath the photo are two dresser-sized radios that belonged to Anderson’s grandfather.
“Those still work,” Anderson said. “And those spears come from Kenya. They were made by a native man and cost me one goat apiece.”
His father was a commercial fisherman in Anacortes. Anderson worked for Wallie Funk, delivering copies of the Anacortes American. As a child, he also remembers accidentally breaking Funk’s ankle with a bowling ball in a photo shoot at San Juan Lanes.
When he was a teenager, Anderson said he felt called to ministry, but he didn’t have the money for a college degree.
“I think Christianity has a message that — first of all, is true — and that people need to hear,” he said. “I wanted to present that message in an exciting and helpful way, so that people know that God really does care about them.”
The road to realize his ministry took him more than a decade, but in the years since Anderson has been able to extend the message of God’s love to people and places he never imagined.
“God is not a private God for my style of religion,” he said.
After high school, Anderson received a scholarship to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy to study engineering, but that didn’t last long.
He got bored with engineering and left the academy to study music at Western Washington University. He joined the Marine Reserves while still in college and after graduation became a Marine Corps pilot, flying F-4 Phantom fighter-bomber jets for 10 years over countries including Vietnam and Cuba.
Anderson said his decision to leave the Coast Guard Academy was a turning point in his life. Another came during his second tour in Vietnam during a memorial service for a friend who had been killed.
The chaplain announced that his friend was in hell because he was an atheist. At the time, Anderson had planned to finish his tour and then pursue the chaplaincy.
“Only God knows where he is,” Anderson said. “And I decided I would leave now to become a chaplain, then come back.”
In 1973 he attended seminary in Minnesota, then worked as a pastor in Northern Idaho before returning to the military.
Anderson looked at the Marines, Navy and Air Force before choosing the Army.
He joined the Green Berets and served as a chaplain with U.S. Army Special Forces and Delta Force in bases and theaters around the world, including Hawaii, Alaska, Panama, Europe and most of the countries in northern Africa.
Anderson said he often served six Sunday services to soldiers of different faith backgrounds.
“In the chaplaincy you pretty much cover everybody,” he said. “And as a Lutheran, I can pretty much swing either way.”
He also acted as an ambassador for the military team when they entered a community overseas, speaking to local pastors who were wary of military personnel but trusted him because he was religious.
Anderson served the spiritual needs of soldiers from every background, including Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, Wicken and athiest.
“The key is that people’s needs really are the same,” he said. “They need to be understood, need to be accepted, need to be loved.”
Soldiers, especially young soldiers, that he served also shared something else in common.
“They don’t have that family support group nearby,” he said. “They’re under tremendous stress and pressure, and then even the training is dangerous. When you do go to war, there’s the added reality that someone is trying to kill you.”
Anderson has learned to deal with his own share of stress and tragedy.
He raised four children after he and his first wife separated. His son, Ken, developed an alcohol problem at the age of 13 while the family was living in Germany.
In January 2010, Anderson’s brother, Keith Anderson, a retired Anacortes High School counselor, went missing. His truck was recovered near Darrington, but Keith has never been heard from.
Anderson said he processes personal trauma by taking a step back and assessing the situation.
“If I can do something about it, then I do it,” he said. “And if I can’t then I don’t worry about it.”
Life has also had its share of joys for Anderson. While he was living in Germany after his first marriage, his sister encouraged him to start writing to her co-worker, Jeanne.
Almost a year later, the two met for the first time in Germany, and Anderson proposed. They were married three weeks later in New Jersey and have been together 26 years.
“I’d never seen a picture of her, but I bought a dress and sent it from Germany, and the first time I saw her she was wearing that dress,” he said. “My phone bill in Germany was getting too expensive, so we had to get married.”
From Germany, Anderson and his family moved to Fort Bragg, N.C., then Fort Campbell, Ky., back to Germany, Hawaii, California, Alaska and Alabama before retiring back to Anacortes in 2002.
As a base chaplain and pastor, Anderson said counseling took up most of his time. He held as many as 12 counseling sessions each day, helping members of his congregation through personal, financial or marriage issues.
Since retirement, Anderson serves as a transitional pastor for Lutheran churches, stepping in when a pastor leaves and running things until a permanent replacement takes over.
He was also the chaplain coordinator at Island Hospital for a number of years. He stepped down in January, but he still covers chaplain duties if no one else is available.
Although he says jumping out of airplanes has ruined his knees, in his retirement Anderson has picked up landscaping, computer programming, digitizing family photos and converting music records to CDs.
“My mom had a saying in our house: ‘“Can’t” never did.’ Well, I’ve done just about everything I wanted to,” he said. “I’ve never bungee jumped, but then again, I never had the desire to.”
Islanders is an occasional feature profiling the diverse people who make our community a special place.
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