Tribute: J. Wilmer Heisey's service spanned seven decades

J. Wilmer Heisey (1923-2013)

J. Wilmer Heisey, executive director of the Board for Brethren in Christ World Missions for 14 years, devoted his life to the work of the Church, from the time he served as a conscientious objector to war in 1943 and through seven decades of service to his death on May 5, 2013 in Harrisonburg, Va, at age 89.   

Wilmer was a member of the Cross Roads Brethren in Christ Church (Mount Joy, Pa.) throughout his lifetime and an ordained pastor in the denomination. He studied at Messiah Bible College in Grantham, Pa., and graduated from Elizabethtown (Pa.) College.

When Wilmer was drafted during World War II, he performed alternative service in Civilian Public Service for three years, working as a dairy tester in central Maine.

After the war, he volunteered with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in the remote mountain region of Lamao in the Philippines. In 1948, he married another worker there, Velma Climenhaga of Saskatchewan, Canada. Velma Heisey survives her husband in Harrisonburg, Va.
Wilmer went on to serve as superintendent of the Navajo Brethren in Christ Mission (Bloomfield, N.M.) from 1952 to 1966. These 14 years provided opportunity for him to hone his administrative skills and to develop a gift for building rapport with a wide variety of people.

Wilmer’s interest in historical perspective, his vision for service, and his careful attention to detail enriched his ministry as a church administrator and as a board member (and often secretary) of numerous Brethren in Christ boards and committees.  Wilmer may be best known across the BIC Church for the 16 years of administrative leadership he gave to Brethren in Christ Missions from 1966 to 1982.

Wilmer also served with distinction for more than 20 years with the Publication Board and its successor, the Board for Media Ministries. He served for a dozen years with the Commission on Peace and Social Concerns, and 12 years on the General Conference Program Committee, an assignment he took very seriously, given his view of the importance of these direction-setting gatherings of the denomination. 

Those who were privileged to work closely with Wilmer knew that, throughout his career, he poured his life into people.  One of many persons influenced by Wilmer, church archivist Glen Pierce, said, “I am keenly aware of the fact that nearly everything I know about ministry and administration, I learned from Wilmer’s example and informal mentoring during the nine years I spent working with him in the Missions office.”

Wilmer’s love for the BIC Church and his desire to enrich the community of believers was expressed in a special concern for those who, for whatever reason, found themselves on the “margins” of church life.  “As we gather in circles of community,” he would say, we always need to keep in mind those who are outside of our circle—the people who are excluded and see only the backside of fellowship.”

In 1982, Wilmer was appointed executive secretary of MCC U.S., and also led its Farm Crisis Task Force.

After retiring from MCC U.S. in 1989, Wilmer continued his lifelong engagement with young people by teaching high school students for several years at Lancaster (Pa.) Mennonite School.

Wilmer wrote numerous articles in Brethren in Christ publications and two books: The Cross Roads Story: A Brethren in Christ Community Living at the Threshold of Tomorrow and Lamao 1947–1950: Tinguians and Americans Working Together.

In addition to his spouse, J. Wilmer is survived by their children, Paul Heisey of Arlington, Va.; Nancy Heisey (and Paul Longacre) of Harrisonburg, Va.; and Mary Jane Heisey (and Philip Harnden) of Richville, N.Y.; daughter-in-law, Melinda Smale of Arlington; four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

A memorial service was held on May 8 at Harrisonburg Mennonite Church.  A second service and burial is to be held later at Cross Roads Brethren in Christ Church.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorial donations to Brethren in Christ World Missions, 431 Grantham Rd., Mechanicsburg, Pa. 17055; or MCC U.S., PO Box 500, Akron, PA 17501.