Almost 44 years ago in the late fall of 1974, the eldership of the Sycamore congregation came to visit us at home, and I met brother Oliver Anderson. He was a youthful elder to me compared to most elders I had met. Shortly thereafter in 1975, brother Anderson became one of my shepherds as my dad took the preaching job and we moved to Sycamore. I had the occasion to meet Ila Mae (wife of 69 years) and their children, in the order I met them: Stanley, Shirley, and Linda.
From the very first meeting, I was impressed by brother Oliver’s infectious smile and happy disposition. He always took time to speak to me. Brother Oliver always encouraged me to be a good Christian. On occasion he even would encourage me very compassionately to do better, which I needed. There was never a doubt in my mind that he loved God supremely and loved me. It was evident. We worked together in the Church, and worked together outside the Church. Once on a building project, my Dad tipped me to “observe Oliver; he works as hard as anyone, but when the day is done, he looks like he just stepped out of the shower.” It was true! I don’t know how he did it? I found brother Oliver to be the same way spiritually. He fought some great spiritual battles, but he always walked away clean. Folks on both sides respected him. No doubt they saw his sincerity. He loved the Lord and it was evident.
In late 1975 brother Oliver was part of the founding of Tennessee Bible College. He was one of the elders that facilitated the start of a night school (TBC) which would meet in the annex building of the Sycamore congregation in Cookeville. From the beginning he and Ila Mae supported the College. It was his stated belief that he would not ask others to give to a cause unless he was willing to give. In early 1979 the Andersons moved to the new congregation Northeast Church of Christ which formed around the goal of world evangelism through supporting the training of Gospel preachers, Bible teachers, and Christian workers at TBC. He was soon ordained an elder serving over 39 years to the day of his death Monday, June 18, 2018.
A couple of years into the work of the new congregation, some individuals tried to take over. They persuaded several men to resign their positions and set up a meeting to force brother Anderson to resign, dissolving the eldership. He told me years later what happened saying he told them he was properly appointed, scripturally serving, and saw no reason to resign. The plan failed; Northeast peacefully progressed. He served with elders Malcolm Hill, Clay Loftis, Roy Deaver, Troyce Cavender, Mike Wheeler, Ernie Cavender, and me. I called him the dean of elders for the span of time he served this congregation. He was a stabilizing force in his unique, loving way. When Troyce Cavender and Malcolm Hill passed away, he gave continuity and strength to the transition. He loved this congregation. Three years ago he began planning for his departure from the eldership. He told us he wanted to leave us strong and prepared. Last year he told me he felt he could leave us and know all would be well. That’s leadership!
Many years ago my dad told me if he was not around for counsel, go to brother Oliver Anderson. He said brother Oliver will never let you down and will sincerely care for you. Over the past six years, I have sought his counsel many times. When visiting him it was common when walking into his den to see him reading the Bible He never disappointed me and always amazed me with his understanding. I have now lost two of the greatest counselors of my life.
My last visit with brother Oliver was Sunday afternoon, June 17. We talked Braves baseball, then about the church, and he expressed his great love for everyone in the Northeast family. He asked that I tell them Sunday night, and I did. I will never forget our parting words. He called me back as I was leaving and said, “If I’m not here when you come back, I want to thank you for all you’ve done and for your work.” He closed by saying, “I love you.” I told him I loved him and we parted. He was my shepherd, friend, and counselor for over 43 years. A great man and a prince in spiritual Israel has fallen. I weep for myself and his family, but rejoice for his gain (Phil. 1:21) looking forward to a great reunion some day in the land of fadeless day. May God bless and comfort Ila Mae and family in this time of separation and loss.