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Bishop Nelson W. Trout

The Rev. Dr. Nelson W. Trout Chapel Dedication and Reception previously planned for February, 2020 has been rescheduled for February 2022, when we will be honored to have the Trout Family in attendance. An endowment in honor of Dr. Trout has been established, with a goal of $25,000 by December 2022. Please see this update for more information

The Rev. Dr. Nelson Trout was born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1921. He attended and would graduate from Capital University and Trinity Lutheran Seminary, both in Columbus. He would later receive a Doctor of Divinity degree from Wartburg College, Waverly, Iowa. Over the years, he pastored congregations in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, Montgomery, Alabama, along with Community Lutheran, Los Angeles in California.

Dr. Trout left Montgomery in 1955, but not before he befriended The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Trinity Lutheran Church, Montgomery, was a small congregation with an attached private school funded as a mission by the World Lutheran Council. Trout was always an advocate of and a champion for quality education. Trout and King, while residing in Montgomery, were known to “kid” each other from time to time. Trout asked King how he got the name “Martin Luther?” King replied by asking Trout how he came to be Lutheran? Trout joked that “competition among Baptist preachers for placements was rough, and that the Lutherans were begging for Negroes” (to use the word common at the time).

Trout served on the staff of the American Lutheran Church (ALC) in 1960, which would merge into the Evangelical Lutheran Church in 1987. From 1960 to 1967, Dr. Trout was the ALC’s Associate Youth Director, a post he would leave to become Director of Urban Evangelism (1968 – 1970). Trout also served as Executive Director of  Lutheran Social Services in Dayton, Ohio, then as professor and Director of Minority Ministry Studies at Trinity Lutheran Seminary, returning to his alma mater. He held that position until June 17, 1983, when the American Lutheran Church – South Pacific District elected him as their bishop during the district convention held at California Lutheran College, Thousand Oaks, California, making him the first African-American bishop in United States Lutheranism.

From 1983 to 1987, Bishop Trout oversaw the South Pacific District, which in 1983 had 144,000 members in 310 congregations in California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Hawaii, and some Texas counties. The three-way merger, which formed the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) in 1987, entailed the creation of 65 synods. Bishop Trout’s original territorial jurisdiction would later become parts of Rocky Mountain, Pacifica and Grand Canyon Synods as well as the Southwest California Synod. The Rev. Trout became the Bishop Emeritus of the new Southwest California Synod, as well as the Director for Mission Theology and Evangelism Training within the ELCA’s Division of Outreach, Chicago, Illinois.

In 1991, his alma mater, Trinity Lutheran Seminary, established the Nelson W. Trout Lectureship in Preaching, an annual event that “lifts the preaching skills” of many.

Nelson Trout died in Inglewood, California on September 20, 1996, survived by his wife, Jennie (who passed away on February 22, 2013) and three adult children. He was 75 years old.

He is is commemorated in the Calendar of Saints of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America on September 20.

Biographical excerpt courtesy Kenneth Randolph Taylor