Professor Nancy Heisey walks with colleagues in the 2022 Commencement processional. (Photo by Rachel Holderman)

Professor Nancy Heisey retires after 23 years at EMU and EMS


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.”

Eastern Mennonite Seminary’s outgoing Associate Dean Lonnie Yoder chats with longtime colleague Professor Nancy Heisey, in a 2016 photo taken to announce Heisey’s new role. She served as associate dean from 2016-21. (EMU file photo)

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.

One highlight

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.

Join the Discussion on “Professor Nancy Heisey retires after 23 years at EMU and EMS

  1. Nancy,
    Thanks for all you did to support my MDIV journey at EMS. You brought needed stability to my navigating of such a large degree. I could not have done it without your guidance and suggestions. I appreciated our BIC discussions towards the end of my degree. Blessings on retirement, and congratulations!

  2. I have been blessed to not only be taught by Nancy, but also have had the honor to just talk with her. Nancy embodies the peace of Jesus Christ and is a true blessing to all who know her.

  3. Hello Nancy,

    You have served long and well and been a shining example of loving, supportive service. I’ve always appreciated our interactions even though they’ve been infrequent. You offer the gift of presence, which is priceless.

    Thank you and God bless in your next phase.

    Mary Ann

  4. Nancy,
    You have been a friend and mentor to me and many of us over the past years. While at MCC together and in more recent years, you always brought a sensibleness to issues and debates that has impressed me. And how many times have I marveled at how much you knew about so many, many things. You are a community builder par excellence.

    Thank you, Earl

  5. As one who began to appreciatively make Nancy’s acquaintance when we were both Temple students and the worked more regularly with her when we were EMS colleagues, I’m a fan of this profile by Lauren Jefferson. Nancy has offered treasure in so many settings. Lauren helps us see that. And though I’ll resist telling tales on her, I do want to be clear that I’ll forever be grateful for the endless ways she contributed to EMU/EMS during our period there as colleagues. God bless, Nancy. And thank you for helping us meet the Rooster, to evoke one of the powerful stories/images you shared with us in chapel.

  6. Nancy,
    Well, you are finally making the move! We have certainly valued your friendship as neighbor, fellow church member, reader, seeker for truth, citizen of the planet, critic of empire, lover of birds, bees, flowers, gardens and trees.
    Go into the next phase of your life with joy and expectation.
    John and Janet Stoner

  7. Nancy
    Thank you for your service to the students and passing on the knowledge of the scriptures. Blessings to you in your next chapter as you walk humbly with your God.
    Kevin King

  8. Hi Nancy,
    Congrats to the Mbuji Mayi teacher! I’m sure this is not really retirement for you, but simply a redirection of energy! You’ve been an inspiration and example to so many throughout your life; it’s been a blessing to have you in the fabric of my life. And when you get back to New Mexico, let me know; in Southwestern mileage, I’m not far away!

  9. My sister has been a light in my life even before I can remember. Conversing about our disciplines, our faiths, our doubts, and our fears has always made me think and feel more deeply. Getting to collaborate on our passion to bring another light—Elsie C. Bechtel—to others was a high point of my historical work. Thank you, elder sister.

  10. Nancy was my faculty mentor during my years in the EMU honors program as an undergraduate student. Looking back, I feel very fortunate to have shared so many meals and conversations with her! Blessings to you in your retirement, Nancy, and thank you for all the ways you have enriched others’ lives throughout your career.

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