This tribute to Owanah Anderson was written by the Rev. Bruce Coggin, who served as a “circuit rider” for Wichita Falls Episcopalians after the departure of a former bishop and other leaders from The Episcopal Church.
Early in the morning of Friday, March 24, Owanah Patricia Anderson “walked on” from this life to the next. She died with her son and others gathered to her. She will be buried at 10 am Wednesday, March 29, 2017, from All Saints’ Church, 2606 Southwest Parkway, Wichita Falls. The Rev. Bruce Coggin will celebrate and the Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston will preach.
Owanah grew up in humble surroundings in Oklahoma, and as a little girl she realized there was a long way to go up in life from where she was. She determined to do it. She read every book in the local library, finished high school, married, bore a son and raised him by herself. In time she met and married Henry Anderson, an attorney from Wichita Falls, helped raise his children, lived a full life in the city, managed the local symphony orchestra for a while, and was in from the beginning at the birth and life of All Saints’ Church there.
After Henry’s death, Bishop Donald Davies and Presiding Bishop Browning asked her to take over the Native American desk at The Episcopal Church Center in New York City. She moved there and from 1983 to 1998 spearheaded that ministry, transforming it along the way. Her book 400 Years: Anglican/Episcopal Mission Among American Indians is still used in seminaries. Most recently the publishers, Forward Movement, asked her to update it for republication, a task she was about when her strength failed some weeks ago.
Her life among her Choctaw kith and kin often found her at tribal gatherings where she was honored as a chieftain. She was an active member of the Association on American Indian Affairs Board of Directors, serving from 1985 to around 2000. The AIAA gives an annual scholarship named for her in honor of her work as an advocate for women’s rights, Indian rights, and world peace. She was a member of President Jimmy Carter’s Advisory Council on Women from 1978-81 and a member of SALT II Treaty review team in Madrid in 1979. She was accorded several other national honors including awards from Harvard Graduate School of Education and an honorary doctorate from Seabury-Western Theological Seminary.
When the specter of schism began to loom over the Diocese of Fort Worth, she formed one of first local “resistance” organization, North Texas Remain Episcopal, and gathered the exiled Episcopalians from Good Shepherd, All Saints, and St. Stephen’s parishes in her home to begin to organize the continuing life of the Episcopal Church in Wichita Falls. After Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts-Schori came to the diocese for the Special Meeting of Convention to reorganize the diocese in February 2009, Owanah took a note from the bishop’s sermon—“Be aware of the joy you see here”—and began publishing JOYFUL Notes, an astonishingly informative and beautiful parish newsletter for All Saints’, later expanded to represent the reorganized Episcopal Church in Wichita County and Ascension Church in Wise County. The mailing list included hundreds from all around the church, including Jefferts Schori, and Owanah produced right at 500 superlative issues.
Owanah’s spirit was indomitable. She had no tolerance for brutality or injustice, sought out problems and solved them, gave lavishly to various charities—her family and personal friends got cards saying she’d bought a goat in their name for some village in a remote corner of Africa. She was the embodiment of loyalty, and if she set her love on you, the experience was transforming.
Owanah’s health declined in her last decade, and she was eventually confined to a wheelchair, needed oxygen continuously. Yet . . . she never slowed down. It just took more people than her to get it all done. But even hindered and sore let, she never stopped working and planning and praying and loving.
Godspeed, warrior woman. The Great Spirit welcomes you to the skies.