The Rev. Herb ’54 Chilstrom, the ELCA’s first presiding bishop, grew up in Litchfield, Minn., a town where everyone was Caucasian when he was young. “Almost everyone had northern European roots. We were very insulated. Coming to Augsburg College opened my eyes to justice issues. The person who pulled me out of my comfort zone was sociology professor Joel Torstenson ’38.”
Herb and his wife Corinne are giving $30,000 to honor Joel Torstenson in the Center for Science, Business, and Religion.
Torstenson challenged students to confront the world’s problems
“Dr. Torstenson impacted me not only during my student years but throughout the rest of my life,” Herb says. “He taught that if you are a Christian, you need to face the problems of the world and be out on the front lines, even if it makes you unpopular.”
He remembers Torstenson confronting Augsburg students with the fact that Jews at that time were not allowed to buy and own property within the city of Minneapolis and that African Americans were segregated in north Minneapolis. “Torstenson said emphatically, ‘This is not fair, and we all have to do something about it.’” Recalling this impassioned teaching, Herb credits Torstenson with inspiring him years later to fight for the rights of gay and lesbian people.
Herb and Corinne Chilstrom deeply influenced by Torstenson
Corinne and Herb began dating shortly after high school when both attended Lutheran Bible Institute. Later when Herb attended Augsburg, he talked extensively with Corinne about issues raised in Dr. Torstenson’s classes. “Through those conversations and also by typing papers for Herb, I too was influenced by Dr. Torstenson,” she says.
After graduation, Herb married Corinne, a Fairview Nursing School graduate. Herb then went to Augustana Theological Seminary, now a part of Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago. He received his Master of Divinity and served Faith Lutheran in Pelican Rapids and Augustana Lutheran in Elizabeth, both in Minnesota. In 1962 he was named professor of religion and academic dean at Luther College in Teaneck, N.J. In 1966, he graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary with a master of theology. Later he earned a Doctor of Education from New York University.
The couple returned to Minnesota in 1970 when Herb accepted a call as senior pastor of First Lutheran in St. Peter. In 1976, Chilstrom became bishop of the LCA’s Minnesota Synod.
Corinne held many nursing positions over the years including obstetrics, pediatrics, intensive care and college nursing. While living in St. Peter, she obtained a B.S. in nursing from Mankato State University.
Herb encouraged her to attend Luther Seminary when she told him, “If I could do anything I wanted, I would go to seminary and study theology.” She received her M.Div. degree in 1985, wondering whether she would ever receive a call since her husband was a synod bishop and conflict of interest could present a barrier. She was delighted to receive a call in another church body, the American Lutheran Church, to serve Bethlehem Lutheran in South Minneapolis.
When Herb was elected presiding bishop, she spoke and taught widely throughout the church for five years before accepting a call as associate pastor at St. Luke’s Lutheran in Park Ridge, Ill. Corinne was the world’s first wife of a Lutheran bishop to also be a pastor. Now they are retired and divide their time between St. Peter, Minn., and Green Valley, Ariz.
Proceeds from Chilstrom’s new book to go toward CSBR
Herb, a master gardener and author, currently is working on My Friend Jonah and Other Dogs I Have Loved. Proceeds from this book will go toward the CSBR.
“Giving is a lot of fun,” Herb says. “We have been blessed, and we like to share our blessings. Giving to the CSBR means I can say thank you to Dr. Torstenson for the major impact he had on my life, and maybe, by example, we can encourage others to do likewise.”