The Rev. Dr. Herbert W. Chilstrom, 88, the first presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), died Jan. 19, 2020, at his home in Green Valley, Ariz. He was born in Litchfield, Minn., on Oct. 18, 1931.
He is survived by his wife of 65 years, Corinne (Hansen), also a Lutheran pastor; a daughter, Mary Cress of Mesa, Ariz.; a son, Christopher Holt of Baltimore; and four sisters, Winnifred Christenson of Robbinsdale, Minn.; Virginia Francis of Pickens, S.C.; Martha (Charles) Anderson of Ashby, Minn.; and Janet (Frederick) Sickert of West Linn, Ore. He was preceded in death by his son Andrew; brother, David; and sisters Adeline Christenson (Earle) and Lorraine Juul (Dick).
Chilstrom completed academic degrees at Augsburg University, Augustana Seminary, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, Princeton Seminary and New York University, where he earned a Doctor of Education degree.
He served Lutheran congregations in Pelican Rapids, Elizabeth and St. Peter, Minn. He was professor and dean at Luther College, Teaneck, N.J., from 1962 to 1970. In 1976 he was elected bishop of the Minnesota Synod of the Lutheran Church in America (LCA). At the 1987 merger that created the 5.2 million-member ELCA, he was elected the first presiding bishop.
Chilstrom was awarded 15 honorary doctorates by 15 colleges, universities and seminaries. He was named a commander of the Royal Order of the North Star by King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden and received the Pope John XXIII Award for Distinguished Service from Viterbo University, the Servus Dei Award from the ELCA, and numerous other honors and awards.
Chilstrom served on numerous boards of directors, including those of the Lutheran World Federation, Geneva, Switzerland (as vice president); Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn.; Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota; Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, Minn.; and the National Council of Churches. He also authored numerous books and articles.
After retirement he continued to be active in church and community, preaching and lecturing in many parts of the country. He became a Minnesota Master Gardener, volunteering and serving as interim director at the Linnaeus Arboretum at Gustavus Adolphus College.
The family prefers that memorial gifts be given to the Herbert Chilstrom Chair in New Testament Studies at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, or to one of the Chilstrom student scholarship funds at Luther Seminary; Gustavus Adolphus College; Augsburg University, Minneapolis, Minn.; or Concordia College, Moorhead, Minn.
There will be two services of Holy Communion: Thursday, Feb. 13, 2 p.m., Desert Hills Lutheran Church, 2150 S. Camino del Sol, Green Valley, Ariz. ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton will bring a greeting, Bishop Deborah Hutterer will preach and Pastor Martin Overson will preside. Reception to follow.
Saturday, Feb. 15, 1 p.m.. Christ Chapel, Gustavus Adolphus College
St. Peter, Minn. ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton will preside and bring a greeting, Presiding Bishop Emeritus Mark Hanson will preach, Bishop Jon Anderson will bring a greeting and Chaplain Siri Erickson will host. Reception to follow.
For each service, clergy and rostered leaders of the ELCA, together with clergy of the ELCA’s ecumenical partners, are invited to robe and process and are asked to RSVP (to email@example.com for Desert Hills and to https://forms.gle/ZB162Zyf99ETnKg5A for Christ Chapel). The vestments color of the day will be green.