Lutheran Church Pastor Sees Springfield Up Close After Tornado
Keith Anderson winds up volunteering on a pre-twister-scheduled church service trip.
When Pastor Keith Anderson first heard about last week’s tornado watch in the Commonwealth—and here—his first reaction was “Come on.”
Several days later, the pastor of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer found himself in post-tornado Springfield, with four other local church members among 600 church members from New England, all on a three-day, pre-tornado-scheduled service project trip.
So Anderson saw and heard firsthand some of the effects of the twister.
“I have never seen destruction of that magnitude,” he said, sitting in his office at the church Thursday afternoon. He described the destruction as “eerie in that urban environment.”
As he drove up to the Mass Mutual Center in Springfield, crews were chain-sawing trees off the road, he said. The tornado had touched down just across the street from the center. The glass front of the building was untouched.
But some areas of town were cordoned off.
One Springfield family that some church volunteers knew had the top of their house ripped off by the twister. So some church volunteers went to help the family search the rubble, Anderson recounted, for possessions and keepsakes.
Overall, the city was very quiet, he said, unusual in itself.
The volunteers’ efforts “took on a new poignancy” after the tornado, Anderson said.
Anderson was assigned to work on a youth center, one of about 70 service projects that church members were scheduled to tackle. Only about six projects had to be rescheduled, the pastor said, because of the tornado.
The director of the youth center talked to his group about the importance of their being there, at that time, Pastor Anderson said. The building itself was undamaged.
Youths at the center were “craving for normalcy.”
Besides cleaning out the center basement and doing other repairs there, the group held a “party in the park” with food and music this past Saturday. Youths and adults flocked to the post-tornado party, he said. The clean-out took his group of roughly 65 volunteers hours, versus the year it would have taken the staff, he said the staff told him.
Church volunteers also held an impromptu food collection. An “amazing amount” was brought to the local food bank in just 24 hours, he said
The experience made Anderson feel “proud of our church, that we wanted to do this, tornado or not.”
The idea of a community service project came a year ago, Pastor Anderson said, at last year’s synod, or meeting of New England pastors and laypeople. The bishop recommended a day of service, he explained. So projects were arranged, from working on the youth center to making pre-tornado home repairs to singing at nursing homes.
When the tornado watch was announced, “We wondered,” the pastor said, “if (the trip) would happen.” Having the tornado hit was “surreal.” The bishop and staff went to Springfield the day after the twister hit to assess the situation. They gave the word that the trip was “a ‘go.’”
The experience breathed life into the local church’s motto, according to the pastor: “God’s work; our hands.”
“We saw that,” he said.
What’s important to Pastor Anderson is making the church a welcoming community, to both people who grew up in the church—and those who didn’t.
Some people think of a church as stuffy, he said.
“We want to break down the mystery.”
“You don’t have to be perfect here," he added. "None of us are perfect.”
The pastor is media savvy.
“Facebook me,” he said.
Or join him at a Beer and Hymns session. He held the first gathering in February at Harrington’s in Wakefield. “We get together, hang out, relax” and sing hymns, old and new.
The idea is “to be church in a different way, “ Pastor Anderson explained, to bridge the gap between religious and secular. The idea came from a pastor in Denver, he said.
“We segregate (the) religious from the rest of life,” Pastor Anderson elaborated. He wants “to break down those barriers,” to mix the secular and the sacred. God calls people, he elaborated, and not just in church.
A second Beer and Hymns is scheduled for June 29, a Wednesday, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Sea Dog Brew Pub here.
Anderson also started a “God on Tap” program about theology. That group met at Grumpy Doyle’s in Reading.
The pastor holds office hours in a coffee shop in Burlington, to place himself out in the community.
Pastor Anderson had a strong feeling when he was 17 that he was called to the ministry. He majored in religion at High Point University in North Carolina; earned a master of divinity degree from Harvard Divinity School, where his college chaplain taught; and a master of sacred theology degree in Lutheran studies from the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.
As a student, he intentionally worked with diverse groups: Harvard undergraduates and the homeless at a Boston shelter; children at Memorial Church at Harvard and hospital patients.
He was ordained on Dec. 20, 2003.
He took the pastorship of the Church of the Redeemer on Dec. 21, 2003. He and his family, his wife, Jennifer, married on July 1, 2000, and their four children, Ellie, 8, Finn, 5 and twin daughters Dulcie and Tess, 2 ½, live in the church’s parsonage. Ellie attends the Linscott-Rumford School.
A lot of church volunteers, including Pastor Anderson, left the Springfield service project thinking, he said, about doing a similar kind of project in their home churches and communities. He’s looking ahead to fall—“when it’s not 100 degrees”—to do a project.
“You think we could do it with 100 people,” Pastor Anderson said, compared with the 600 in Springfield, “where we live and know the community.”