Pastor James Anderson, the leader of Christian Love Baptist Church for four decades and a leading light in Modesto’s faith community, died Tuesday at his home. He was 83.
Anderson suffered a heart attack Monday, said Holly Ahmed, administrative assistant at the church on H Street in west Modesto. He led the congregation up to his death.
Christian Love is a small church, mainly made up of African-American members, but it is a center of activity in its low-income neighborhood. Anderson reached out to the wider Modesto area, notably with the spirited celebration each January of the birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Anderson co-founded the Modesto Police Clergy Council and supported other efforts to build peace.
“I considered Pastor Anderson a friend, mentor and loved him like a brother,” Police Chief Galen Carroll said by email. “He has been a key leader in our community in helping to bring our city together across racial and socio-economic divisions.”
Anderson raised five children with his first wife, Patsy, who remained close to him until his death, daughter Angel Anderson Smith said. He is survived by wife Karen Anderson, three of his five children, 17 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren.
Anderson served in the Marine Corps at Camp LeJeune, N. C. from 1953 to 1956, and did some of his early preaching then.
He was born March 20, 1935, in McGovern, a small town in the coal country of Pennsylvania. His father and brother died young from mining-related ailments, and he felt a call from God to move to California, Smith said. It made sense physically, spiritually and financially, she said.
Anderson earned a bachelor’s degree from California Polytechnic State University, Pomona, in 1972, and worked for the California Youth Authority in Chino. He later transferred to Stockton, but his young family remained in Southern California. It was during a weekend drive to see them that he had another spiritual experience, one that would bring the whole family to Modesto in 1975.
“I didn’t even know the name of the town, but between the Kansas (Avenue) and Yosemite turnoffs I knew I was supposed to preach here,” Anderson said in a 2005 profile in The Modesto Bee.
He recalled talking with friends in 1978 about starting what became Christian Love Baptist. The church motto comes from the Last Supper, when Jesus Christ urged his disciples to spread his message of love.
“When people love one another, it demonstrates that this is an authentic ministry of Christ,” Anderson said.
The ministry could mean teaching about the civil rights movement in the South via the King events, or taking on crime, AIDS and other hometown issues in Modesto.
“He was always there for so many people,” said Jeremiah Williams, a Modesto businessman and civic leader. “It didn’t matter what color you were.”
Williams recalled Anderson’s concern for children and his belief in staying healthy. “He was the sharpest dressed preacher in town,” he added.
Anderson often invited church members to come to the pulpit to share their talents or achievements. He started having children read aloud their report cards, good or bad, out of concern that some were failing at school. And he welcomed ex-convicts and other people who had lost their way.
“I have the best bunch of forgiven sinners in the world,” Anderson said in the 2005 story.
He was preceded in death by a son, James Anderson Jr., and a daughter, Malinda Anderson Dixon. He also is the father of Mark Anderson and Chris Anderson Girley.
A viewing will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 25, at Christian Love Baptist, 202 H St. A memorial service will be at 11 a.m. Thursday, July 26, at United Pentecostal Church of Modesto, 825 Seventh St.