Professor Emeritus Nate Yoder, a scholar of church history and university archivist, worked for 20 years at Eastern Mennonite University. He earned master's and doctoral degrees in history from the University of Notre Dame. In 2014, he published "Together in the Work of the Lord," a history of the Conservative Mennonite Conference, among many other scholarly works. (EMU file photo)

In Memoriam: Nate Yoder, professor emeritus of church history and university archivist, helped many ‘put feet on their prayers’

Here my goal is to assist students in naming the way God is calling them to help shape the history they are living. To name such a calling is to put feet on our prayers that His kingdom come and will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Professor Nate Yoder, writing of his Spiritual Formation Class

Those who met Professor Emeritus Nate Yoder always came away with strong memories, even those who only shared a Lenten foot-washing ceremony. Tim Worley, who earned a certificate of ministry studies in 2015, never shared the classroom, but their ministry to each other in 2013 led to a well-remembered conversation. “Nate made a point afterwards to talk with me and hear my story. Truly a kind and compassionate man.”

Yoder was also a consummate scholar of church history who urged his students towards deep intellectual considerations: “I invite students to engage in critical analysis and to bring considered commitment and worshipful wonder to their study and contemplation of the incarnate Word, the embodied Spirit and the renewed church, “ he summarized once.

Nathan Emerson Yoder leaves behind many memories among those in the EMU and EMS communities and beyond, as a former pastor of Dayton Mennonite Church and a member of Mt. Clinton Mennonite Church. He died Friday, April 3, at his home, after a long journey with Parkinson’s disease and more recently, mantle cell lymphoma. 

Nate Yoder while researching his book on the Conservative Mennonite Conference at Rosedale Bible College. (RBC)

Yoder served for more than 20 years as a professor of church history, in that time directing the MA in Religion program and the MA in Church Leadership programs. In addition to church history, he taught courses in spiritual formation. “In such classes the agenda of discerning what God is initiating and how we as humans choose to respond” is not an echo but the “main chord,” he wrote. “Here my goal is to assist students in naming the way God is calling them to help shape the history they are living. To name such a calling is to put feet on our prayers that His kingdom come and will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

From 2005-17, Yoder was also the university archivist, a time that culminated in considerable assistance and support to historian Don Kraybill as he wrote EMU’s centennial history. Yoder’s knowledge of Mennonite history was “vast and impressive,” said special collections librarian Simone Horst. “It seemed as if he always knew of a book or course that would give deeper context to the topic at hand.”

Nate and Mim Yoder. (EMU file photo)


Horst knew Yoder as a mentor, colleague and friend, and many in the EMU and EMS community will share her sentiments that sharing the blessing of those different relationships with Yoder was indeed “a privilege.” 

A Facebook post about Yoder’s passing prompted many to share memories — of his gentleness, kindness, compassion, the way he endured his recent suffering, his boundless capacity to live into a life of faith as “the rare blend of scholar and pastor,” according to Chris Scott ‘95, MDiv ‘11. “We are crushed by his leaving us, but grateful for his memory. He was a great example of grace and holy living in the journey of suffering.”

Nancy Heisey, associate dean of the seminary, remembered Yoder as a pastoral presence beyond his teaching responsibilities. “Before I knew Nate well, I noticed how he reached out to many others at EMU beyond the seminary community. When I learned of his Parkinson’s diagnosis, while I was caring for my husband in declining health, Nate was one of the most gentle and regular colleagues who checked in on how Paul and I were doing. At the seminary, I also benefited many times from his careful supervision of student research, his love for Mennonite history, and his eye for critical details in assessment and curriculum planning. I feel so blessed to have known him.”

“I remember how Nate treated me much more than any lesson he tried to help me learn,” said Melissa Fretwell MDiv ‘15. “I was comforted when I saw Nate and always cherished our encounters.”

Clayton Payne brought his 7-year-old foster son to the seminary at times while he was earning his Master of Divinity degree. Cody knew Nate as the “ice cream professor” for his small gifts to the boy. “Everyone needs a little ice cream money,” Nate told Clayton, when Clayton protested. “I could tell you about how he was as a great teacher but what I remember most was how he was as a person. His humility, grace, mercy and kindness to my family will never be forgotten.”

Professor Nate Yoder presents “Mumaw at Eastern Mennonite: A Case Study in Contexts for Discernment” in 2012 at Eastern Mennonite University. (Photo by Lindsey Kolb)

Michael King, dean and vice president of Eastern Mennonite Seminary from 2010-17, recalls a long friendship with Yoder that began as they made multiple trips to the University of Virginia hospital to visit King’s aunt. Yoder was her pastor at Dayton Mennonite Church. “I  was always grateful for the sharing soul-to-soul and heart-to-heart that he and I were able to do, even across some theological differences. Some of what he told me then helped me grasp later as his dean that even when we disagreed, I could always trust his large mind and spirit.”

Yoder was on the search committee that eventually brought King to EMS. “Once I became dean, I treasured the moments when Nate would carefully and judiciously offer perspectives on whatever happened to be the issue at hand, whether involving routine administrative details, major theological decisions, or weighing how history might inform the present,” King shared. Yoder was also “an exceptional guide through issues of integrity … so committed to weighing grace, accountability, and the ultimate well-being of the other even if consequences needed to be imposed.”


Nate and Mim Yoder with son Evan at his 2012 graduation. (Courtesy of Paul J. Yoder)

Born on August 4, 1955 in Meyersdale, PA, Nate Yoder was a son of the late Paul H. and Martha Marie (Miller) Yoder. On April 14, 1979, he married Miriam “Mim” (Miller) Yoder who survives.

Also surviving are Nate’s children and grandchildren, Paul J. and Katrina Martin Yoder with grandchildren Isela Joy and Matias Benjamin, of Harrisonburg; Amelia Marie and Blake Showalter with grandchildren Alex Ty, Amiah Grace, and Aleah Faith, of Dayton, VA; and Evan Jay and Kelsey Miller Yoder of Blacksburg, VA. [Editor’s note: Paul Yoder is a professor of education at EMU.]

A private graveside service will be held with Pastor Jim Hershberger officiating. A memorial service will be held at a later date. Those wishing to pay their respects may visit the Mt. Clinton Cemetery in accordance with social distancing guidelines.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Brethren & Mennonite Heritage Center, P.O. Box 1563, Harrisonburg, VA 22803.

Online condolences may be made to the family by visiting or McMullen Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.

Comments made in the space below will be shared with the family as well.

Discussion on “In Memoriam: Nate Yoder, professor emeritus of church history and university archivist, helped many ‘put feet on their prayers’

  1. While I wrote this tribute for Nate, I didn’t include my own connection to him. Nate helped me with many articles related to the history of EMU, including tribute articles for former faculty and staff, and in our special Crossroads alumni magazine issues that commemorated EMU’s Centennial. It was Nate who assisted in the creation of the list of objects/artifacts featured in the magazine to commemorate the 100 years. And it was Nate’s idea to feature a hymnal — and then not just any hymnal. He offered to bring a few of the “red hymnals” from Mt. Clinton Mennonite Church that had been donated there in honor of the retirement of Chester K. Lehman. Lehman was pastor at Mt. Clinton from 1947-73, but also a dean and professor at EMC for more than 40 years. I loved that Nate saw the beautiful symbolism of those special hymnals, spiritual and historic treasures that, when used, lifted voices to God and man, and I remember cramming all of the words possible to describe everything about those books into that caption on that page (I didn’t have room to say who had made the photo possible, which was just a wonderful synchronicity considering who Nate was). I even remember telling Nate about how I worked so hard on that caption later.

    Nate was always ready to listen to an eccentric question and just as ready to help me track down the answer. Nate and I often got off on rabbit trails into Mennonite history and some time later, we would both look at the clock and wonder where all our time had gone. I will always remember the smiles we shared the many times this happened. It was evident to me that there was much more to Nate than the historian I knew, and that I was only scratching the surface of his immense wisdom. I always wish for the opportunity to learn even more from him.

    I knew of Nate’s declining health and had just written down his home address to send him a note when I heard of his passing. live not far from Mt. Clinton Mennonite Church and it’s just a few extra minutes to add that as a turnaround point to one of my regular runs. I did that for the first time on Friday. I’ll miss you, Nate. –Lauren Jefferson

  2. I was blessed to have the opportunity to work closely with Nate while I was researching and writing the centennial history of EMU. Nate had the amazing knack of find key, sometimes obscure documents and files that were pertinent to a wide variety of topics that I was investigating. Besides, he drafted short research essays for me on theological and historical topics that laid out the key issues, debates, and sources on controversies like pre-millenialism, plenary inspiration, and J.B. Smith’s view of liberalism, to name but a few of dozens of topics. These research essays saved me hundreds of hours of time by providing guideposts, identifying central points of controversy, and alerting me to errors. Without his enormous investment in all the background research and unwavering support, the centennial book would have been much shorter and more shallow or I possibly would never have completed it.

    All the while, his spirit was gracious, supportive, winsome, and humble, even as the Parkinson’s slowed him down during the last several years. Rest in peace my dear Brother and may the joys of Shalom surround you in your new abode.

  3. I found Nate Yoder to be a forthright historian, scholar, compassionate man. I worked with him both in serving as a third reader in oral exams for a couple of Master’s student thesis and as advisor to at least one Master’s student. Nate knew what questions to ask in these exams as well as what sources of information students could find help. Nate gave me the honor or reading the history of the Conservative Mennonite Conference book before it was published.
    I am grateful for who Nate was as a Christian disciple and a teacher.

  4. I knew Nate as a friend and researcher when he was doing his Phd studies at Notre Dame, and I was director of the Mennonite Church’s Historical Committee and Archives in Goshen, Indiana. Later, we again intersected when he was writing the Conservative Mennonite Conference history, and I was with Herald Press, his publisher. What always impressed me was how much he loved the church, the larger catholic church of South Bend, but also his own sectarian congregation that reared him in Grantsville, Maryland — and every other variety. His piety and sincerity was authentic and charming, at least to me. May he rest in peace.

  5. I just received the EMU News this morning and found out about Nate Yoder’s passing on to his eternal reward. I was on the Historical Committee of the Conservative Mennonite Conference when we invited Nate to write the 100-year history of CMC and enjoyed working with him. A few weeks ago I started re-reading his book and again observed his kind words of affirmation for our own ministry in Costa Rica and to CMC as he autographed the book, which I now treasure more than ever. I praise God for Nate’s gifts and contribution to the work of the Lord and His Church.

  6. I join the chorus of appreciation for Nate Yoder as I recall Nate’s careful, caring and thorough coaching as I researched and crafted my MAR thesis as a seminary student. Nate continued to give me encouragement through the years, even as he coped with his own health challenges. He was an historian to the core, but also meticulous and caring in scholarship. A pastor at heart. I will always smile with gratitude as I remember him.

Comments are closed.