James Hofrenning, 94, of St. Paul, Minnesota passed away on March 28, 2020. A memorial service will be held later. His ashes will be interred at Fort Snelling National Cemetery and among his beloved Norway pines at the family cabin on Lake Kabekona near Walker, MN.
Jim was born in 1926 in Harvey, ND and grew up in Pine Creek, MN, the fifth child of Anna and Rev. Bernt Hofrenning. After six weeks in college, he entered the U.S. Army in 1944, and served in the Pacific. He graduated from Concordia College, received master’s degrees at Luther Seminary and Union Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. from New York University. He was a pastor at Zion Lutheran Church in Brooklyn, NY and a Professor of Religion at Concordia College for 30 years. He spent sabbatical leaves at Yale, Duke and Northwestern Universities, as well as Hong Kong Lutheran Theological Seminary. He traveled to Ethiopia and Namibia, representing the Lutheran Church. He retired in 1993 and moved to the Twin Cities to be near family.
Family meant everything to Jim. He and his wife, Ingeborg, whom he often affectionately called Inky, had a loving partnership for 64 years. He cherished his children and had much affection for their spouses and his grandchildren. He loved to “dine” with his family and to see everyone together at the cabin. He was an inveterate photographer of every family gathering, a habit that sparked loving teasing from his family.
Faith was at the crux of his life. “We are an Easter People in a Good Friday World” was both a title for a book he wrote and a core idea in his life. He sought to acknowledge the suffering and injustice in the world — and to face it with a sense of hope that was rooted in his faith. A favorite sermon of his was entitled “We are God’s Work of Art.” He wanted to encourage people and highlight the beauty and complexity of every person.
As a professor, he was a forerunner in off-campus study. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, he taught a class in New York City and brought students to Harlem, Night Court, Broadway, jazz concerts in Manhattan, and Time Square on New Year’s Eve. He led a class to the Soviet Union.
On campus, he was a challenging and innovative professor. A popular class was “Death and Dying.” With an engaging style, he started class with abstract theories of ethics and then invited expert guests to offer an applied perspective. For example, he had class discussions about end-of-life care and then invited chaplains and medical staff to discuss their experiences. In the year he retired, he was quoted in the Fargo Forum, “In religion classes, students must be free to — be encouraged to — ask questions that disturb them.”
Hofrenning was a pioneer in the ecumenical movement and forged connections between college and community. He founded the Fargo-Moorhead Communiversity, an adult education program that attracted over 1000 students every year, and the Charis Ecumenical Center at Concordia. He developed partnerships between Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish communities. He was awarded the Reuel and Alma Wije Distinguished Professor Award at Concordia, the Concordia Alumni Award, and the Humanitarian Award by the Temple Beth El in Fargo.
He was preceded in death by sister Dagmar and brothers Monrad, Ralph, and Jerry. He is survived by his wife Ingeborg (née Skarsten); children Kathryn (Ken Cooper), Dan (Nancy Brown), Peter (Stella), grandchildren Theo, Gabe (Somer), Elias, and Ekaterina, great grand-child Theo, sisters-in-law Ruth and Doris, and many nieces and nephews.
Memorial donations may be made to Concordia College in memory of Jim and sent to Concordia Advancement, 901 8th St. S. Moorhead, MN 56562