When Professor Peter Dula shared memories of his colleague Nancy Heisey, he remarked about how, as president of Mennonite World Conference, she took time to lead the children of Community Mennonite Church in singing on Sundays.
He also commented on her weekly, regular devotion to the study of Greek, even through the pandemic – a devotion to intellectual rigors and to the sheer dedication of “getting better at your craft” – that deeply impressed him.
And he also shared that he would miss her as a mentor and advisor. She has been that, among many other roles in teaching and administration, at Eastern Mennonite University in the last 23 years. Most recently, as associate seminary dean from 2017-21, Heisey helped to prepare for and then lead the seminary through a challenging, successful self-study and reaccreditation process for the Association of Theological Schools.
“Nancy’s service to EMU’s students, faculty, and administration, is long and deep,” said Sue Cockley, dean of the School of Theology, Humanities, and the Performing Arts. “She demonstrates daily what it means to not tire in doing good works.”
Heisey’s empathetic capacities to build and nurture strong relationships through encounter and dialogue have often empowered students and colleagues who otherwise might not be able find a way forward, said her colleague, Professor Andrea Saner. Over cups of coffee or a lunch, through such hospitalities, she helps to work out the complexities. “This is one of the reasons why she became a trusted mentor and advisor – because she approaches these tasks through friendship. And it is also what has made her a good teacher. She knows her students and is keen to work with them – with the particularities of their interests, abilities, and contexts. During her time as associate dean, it seemed she knew every student, their needs and goals for their education and ministries.”
Heisey came to Eastern Mennonite Seminary to earn a Master of Divinity degree after 15 years working with Mennonite Central Committee and serving in several leadership roles. She was encouraged by faculty, she remembers, to pursue a second career in seminary education. From 1999-2010, she taught the Bible, religion and theology department as well as a variety of EMU Core courses.
During this span, she also balanced her work at EMU with other callings. In 2003, Heisey became the first woman president of Mennonite World Conference, a global community of Mennonite and Anabaptist-related churches.
From 2010-13, Heisey served as undergraduate dean, then returned to Bible, religion and theology. From 2016-2021, she started a part-time appointment as seminary associate dean, while continuing to teach undergraduate and seminary classes. In fall of 2022, she returned to full-time teaching.
Readers are encouraged to drop well-wishes, memories and congratulations into the comment box below to share with Nancy.
Here’s a bit more about her career in her own words, a few notes of gratitude and plans for the future.
The journey to teaching
I was commuting to EMS in 1993-1994, finishing an MDiv degree. During that time, faculty in the Bible and religion department talked to me about pursuing a PhD and returning to teach in the department. After some discernment, I decided to pursue the graduate degree. [She earned an MA in religion and a PhD in religion-early Christian studies from Temple University.]
I had been able to teach one undergrad class during that time, and found (again) that I loved teaching. I had much earlier taught at a Mennonite secondary school in the Democratic Republic of Congo [then Zaire] with MCC.
I came to EMU because I was excited about the opportunity to work with others whose vision centered around encouraging students, faculty, and our communities, to deeper Christian discipleship through work for justice and peace.
EMU leaders Loren Swartzendruber [president emeritus] and Beryl Brubaker [administrator emeritus] encouraged and supported my participation with Mennonite World Conference during the 10 years that I served there, alongside my EMU responsibilities. I was grateful for their commitment to EMU as a place to support, engage, and challenge the churches.
Great gratitude to many faculty and staff colleagues over the years, especially Kevin Clark, Peter Dula, Carmen Schrock-Hurst, Andrea Saner, and Andrew Suderman, who have pushed my intellectual boundaries and strengthened my ongoing spiritual formation.
And what would EMU be without the students! They have been my sources of great joy, great frustration, and great learning! I thank them all.
Speaking of students, among my most memorable moments are the times when students emerged to help me maneuver my husband Paul Longacre‘s wheelchair around the campus hills, during the last years of his life. They spared my lungs and gave him joy.
And now, with more time…
I want to finish my manuscript exploring many parts of the history of the Bible, then see if it interests anyone else.
I want to go back to visit the places in northern New Mexico where I grew up.
I want to read a lot and walk a lot, looking for flowers and listening for birds.