The Rev. Robert Rigstad was pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Van Nuys, California, when gay activist and author Chris Glaser was a candidate for ordination. Rigstad led the congregation’s Session (Elders) to a unanimous decision to continue supporting Glaser as a candidate in 1974 when he came out to them and to the presbytery committee overseeing his preparation for ministry. Glaser notes that he had previously received immediate support from Rev. Rigstad when he told him he was gay before beginning the ordination process and entering seminary.
Rigstad was born in March, 1938 in Detroit, Michigan, and grew up in Duluth, Minnesota starting at the age of 8. He graduated from Denfeld High School in 1955, where he was on the debate team and played flute in the marching band. He earned a B.A. degree from Whitworth College in Spokane, Washington in 1959 with a double major in Greek and History. It was there that he met the love of his life, Anita Joanne Crall. They were married at her home church, United Brethren of Walla Walla, Washington, in April, 1960, and remained together and deeply in love for the rest of his life.
After attending Dubuque Theological Seminary, he was ordained and called to serve as pastor of the First Presbyterian church of Roseburg, Oregon, (1962 -1966), Jacksonville, Oregon (1966-1968), Salt Lake City, Utah (1968-1972), and Van Nuys, California (1972-1980). During his years in Van Nuys, he successfully integrated both the local Anglophone and Hispanic communities in a dual language congregation. He also presented the case for the ordination of openly gay and lesbian pastors at the 1977 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia.
He then served as the chief Executive of the Presbytery of Utah from 1980-1988, while simultaneously heading up Shared Ministry in Utah, a Protestant ecumenical organization. During that time, he earned a Doctorate in Ministry degree at San Francisco Theological Seminary. He also served as Executive Presbyter in Seattle (1988-1992) and Philadelphia (1992-2000), before returning in retirement to Salt Lake City, where he could enjoy the company of family and old friends, as well as the natural beauty of Utah. He liked to spend his leisure time fishing, gardening, and playing cribbage. Rigstad died June 30, 2019 at 82 years of age in Salt Lake City.
Chris Glaser recalls that Bob and Anita participated in a spiritual formation course that Glaser taught at Columbia Seminary near Atlanta about Henri Nouwen, his spiritual mentor. Glaser told the class about Bob’s support in the early years when the climate for LGBT persons was not so friendly in the church or the culture. Glaser stated: “People like Bob and Anita Rigstad are the reason the church became welcoming, not just of LGBT folk, but of all kinds of people seeking a spiritual home.”
(This biographical statement taken from the Robert Rigstad obituary with the Larkin Mortuary, https://www.larkinmortuary.com/obituary/the-reverend-dr-robert-hillard-rigstad/, with additional information provide by Chris Glaser.)
Biography Date: July 2019
Glaser, Chris | Presbyterian Church (USA) | Ordination/clergy | Ally