Three lives became unexpectedly intertwined when Alaska native Inger Hanson received a scholarship from the ELCA Fund for Leaders. It started with an act of love from 3,000 miles away in Pennsylvania.

Caroline Anderson wanted to honor her husband’s life and decades of ministry in the church, so in 2007 she established the “Rev. Dr. E. Earl Anderson Seminary Scholarship Endowment Fund” within the Fund for Leaders.

“Earl had to work his way through school, coming from humble beginnings,” Anderson said. “He loved school so much. After he retired he returned to school and got two doctorate degrees. He could’ve been the professional student all his life. He was so dedicated to his work, and it was very important for me to establish something in his honor.”

To date, the Anderson fund has provided full-tuition scholarships for three seminarians, including Hanson, who now serves as pastor of Shepherd of the Mountains Lutheran Church in Jackson, Wyo.

For Hanson, the scholarship affirmed her call to ministry and removed a potential barrier to going to seminary. But it also opened the door to a mentorship and friendship with the Andersons.

Hanson visited them at their home in Indiana, Pa., on several occasions. She also regularly kept in touch with Earl, sharing her sermons and seminary papers that he gladly took the time to read and comment on. “He was my secret professor,” Hanson said. “He delighted in watching me learn.”

Anderson added, “It was a one-of-a-kind relationship. They got along so wonderfully. They related so well to each other, like they were old friends. It was wonderful to see.”

Their friendship continued until Earl’s death in January 2015. Eight months later, Anderson participated in Hanson’s ordination service, placing one of her husband’s stoles on the new pastor’s shoulders. “It felt like Earl was looking down from heaven with a big smile,” said Anderson, who gave his entire set of stoles to Hanson.

“We were surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses,” Hanson said, recalling her ordination day. “There is a warmth and weight to Earl’s stoles.”

Anderson said of the gift, “I couldn’t think of a better way to show my deepest love and respect for Earl. It reflects Earl’s love for learning and his commitment to serving God. People still tell me what a faithful, caring pastor he was.”

Now more than a year later, Hanson said she still wears Earl’s stoles every week. “My connection with the Andersons continues to influence me today in trying to build relationships and be present with people the way Earl was with me—and I believe the way he was with his parishioners,” she said. “Earl had a paradoxical quality of radiating peace that was at the same time intensely energizing. His humor, too, made everything fun.”

Hanson and Anderson still keep in touch. Every week Hanson sends a copy of her sermon to Anderson in addition to her parents.

“Caroline’s support behind the scenes inspires me,” Hanson said. “She shows an incredible love without words. I still treasure coming to visit and seeing all of Earl’s and my email correspondence carefully organized and bound. As verbal as I am, Caroline always reminds me of the importance of actions.”

Cindy Novak
Novak is a freelance writer and a member of Our Saviour Lutheran Church in Naperville, Ill.

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