Bishop Eaton issues pastoral message on death of Herbert Chilstrom

1/19/2020 12:00:00 AM

Dear Church,

With sadness I bring you the news that Presiding Bishop Emeritus Herbert W. Chilstrom died at home early this morning. His wife, Pastor Corinne Chilstrom; his son, Chris Holt; and family were with him.

Bishop Chilstrom was the first presiding bishop of the ELCA. Many of you knew him in those early days when the ELCA was just getting started – there was no furniture at the Lutheran Center, files were in boxes, phones were on the floor, and the skeleton staff worked on card tables and folding chairs. He was once told by a corporate executive sitting next to him on a plane that this was no way to start a corporation and it would never work. Thirty-three years later we are still here, entrusted with the ministry of the gospel and serving the neighbor.

I can’t imagine the uncertainty and chaos of those first months, but all I know we were filled with hope for this new church the Spirit had brought into being. And I know that Bishop Chilstrom served out of the conviction that it was God’s will to raise up an ELCA witness to the gospel, and with God, all things are possible.

I remember Bishop Chilstrom saying once that his mother told him: “Herb, you might be the only Bible some people read.” It was her way of telling him, and his way of telling us, that we are living witnesses to the grace of God.

Bishop Chilstrom chose “Rejoice, Ye Pure in Heart!” (ELW, 873) to be the sending hymn at his funeral. Verse five announces:


At last the march shall end;

The wearied ones shall rest;

The pilgrims find their home at last,

Jerusalem the blest.

Rejoice! Give thanks and sing!


Through tears, but in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection, we rejoice.



The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton
Presiding Bishop
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America



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