Last Saturday, February 15, Gustavus saw an influx of visitors to campus for a celebration of life for Rev. Dr. Herbert Chilstrom. The Minnesota service was held in Christ Chapel, with another service taking place in Arizona, where Chilstrom resided later in his life.
Rev Dr. Chilstrom lived a large life. He was the first Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) bishop, elected to his post in 1987, he was also the first Presiding Bishop over the ELCA, and a father and husband. He maintained a dedicated connection to Gustavus throughout his life in addition to his many passions.
An active member of the St. Peter and Gustavus communities, Chilstrom served as the interim director of the Linneaus Arboretum for a year and later served as a gardener. He was an active volunteer in the St. Peter area, including Gustavus.
Chilstrom’s connection to St. Peter started when he became a pastor at First Lutheran Church early in his career.
Dedicated to the growth of the College, Chilstrom served on the Gustavus board of trustees from 1971 to 1987. In 1987, Chilstrom became the first ELCA bishop and was honored for his time at Gustavus with an honorary doctorate. Over his lifetime, he was the recipient of 15 total honorary degrees.
The service being held in Christ Chapel. Many Gusties were in attendance as well as members of the St. Peter community, which goes to show just how connected Chilstrom was to the area.
“I am struck by how fortunate we were to have such an accomplished and faithful leader among us, and also how humble Herb was as he quietly went about his good work,” Gustavus President Rebecca Bergman said in an email to Gustavus employees.
“I first learned of Rev. Dr. Chilstrom in 1988 when the Lutheran Church in America, the American Lutheran Church, and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches combined to form the ELCA as we know it today. My father was a pastor and bishop in Pennsylvania, and he spoke highly of Rev. Chilstrom’s thoughtful leadership as the newly-formed Church came together to chart a new path,” Bergman said.
Current members of Gustavus’ faith community also felt a deep connection to Chilstrom.
“Herb and Corinne Chilstrom have been an influence and source of inspiration in my life for many years. When they were retired and living in St. Peter, it was a gift having them so near. I will always remember Herb’s loving kindness and powerful way he shared the love of Jesus,” Grady St. Dennis, Chaplain and Director of Church Relations said.
In addition to being a man of great spiritual faith, Chilstrom had a green thumb and enjoyed planting and gardening. After retirement, Chilstrom became a Minnesota master gardener and volunteered often. He frequently helped care for the 150 acres of plant life in the arboretum.
“The fact that Herb chose to live in Saint Peter and serve at Gustavus is a testament to our living connection with the ELCA, and his memorial service [was] an opportunity to share our gratitude for his leadership and vision,” Bergman said.
The funeral service was led by ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, Presiding Bishop Emeritus Mark Hanson, and Gustavus Chaplain Siri Erickson. The Gustavus Choir sang, and organists Chad Winterfeldt, Tim Strand, and David Fienen helped provide music.