Sarah Ann Bixler has been named associate dean of Eastern Mennonite Seminary. She begins administrative duties July 1, 2021, and will continue teaching responsibilities as a faculty member of the seminary.
She moves into a role previously held by Professor Nancy Heisey, who has served as associate dean since 2016.
Bixler will oversee the seminary’s graduate degree programs, guide the development of new programs for pastors and laypersons involved in a wide range of ministries, and serve as director of the seminary’s formation program. She will also serve on the faculty as assistant professor of formation and practical theology, beginning this fall.
“Sarah’s enthusiasm for serving the needs of seminary students and pastors in this difficult time is inspiring,” said Sue Cockley, dean of the seminary. “I’m confident her leadership will strengthen the seminary in the coming years and serve the church both locally and nationally.”
Bixler has been an instructor with the seminary for two years while finishing her PhD in practical theology with a specialization in Christian education and formation from Princeton Theological Seminary.
In October 2020, Bixler was ordained into the ministry of Virginia Mennonite Conference.
In addition to her doctorate, she holds a Master of Divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary and a bachelor’s degree, magna cum laude, from Eastern Mennonite University.
“I welcome this role as a sense of call to serve the church through theological education,” Bixler said. “I am honored to help lead the seminary into a new season of faithfulness during this dynamic time of change. Eastern Mennonite Seminary’s firm grounding in the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition and desire to expand its educational offerings align with my passion: finding innovative ways for more people to join communities where we are formed together to participate in God’s reconciling mission in the world.”
Bixler spent a decade in ministry in the Shenandoah Valley, including working on Virginia Mennonite Conference staff, before beginning studies at Princeton Theological Seminary. At Princeton, she was instrumental in launching new programs in church planting and revitalization and women clergy leadership education.
Her dissertation was titled “Networks of Belonging: Envisioning Adolescent Attachment in Congregations.” Bixler notes she had “the honor of having the first all-female dissertation committee in Princeton Theological Seminary’s history,” with her advisor Professor Kenda Creasy Dean, and committee members, professors Bo Karen Lee and Sonia Waters.
She and her husband Benjamin and their three children are renovating the historic Lincoln Homestead in Linville, Virginia. The Bixlers have hosted open house events to share the site’s history, including Juneteenth and Lincoln’s birthday events, as well as, most recently, during Black History Month, honoring the known and unknown enslaved people who lived and worked at the site.