Canon Maria Tjeltveit
Church of the Mediator, Allentown
“You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea, and Samaria,
and to the ends of the earth.”
By the time we get to the 9th chapter of Acts, the progression of the witness of Jesus’ followers beyond Jerusalem has started. There are believers in Judea (the southern part of Israel), Samaria (the northern part of Israel), and Damascus, which is in Syria. There is a long way to go to reach the ends of the earth, but the pilgrimage has begun.
When I first stopped by the Cathedral Church of the Nativity, as a tourist 20 years ago, I found something that mentioned that the Rev. Kenneth Heim had once served as a curate there. His name may not be remembered by anyone at the cathedral now, but he was a person who inspired others to witness to the ends of the earth. My father was one of the people he inspired to become a missionary in Japan. I grew up calling him, “Uncle Ken.” I want to share his story with you as a small part of the pilgrimage of our diocese.
Ken Heim was the son of a rector of St. Mary’s, Reading, and attended Lehigh University as a member of Leonard Hall, an organization for Episcopal men pursuing the ministry. He served as a curate at Nativity in the early 1930’s. He was an assistant professor of Church History at Virginia Seminary, from 1946-52. There, he encouraged seminarians (like my father) to become missionaries, and took students on summer programs to Mexico and Cuba.
In 1952, Heim went to Japan and became a missionary himself. He was the liaison officer between the Episcopal Church and the Nippon Sei Ko Kai (the Japanese Episcopal Church), and helped found the Overseas Mission Society. He spent the rest of his ministry and life in Japan. When he died in 1981, he was remembered as a key figure in missionary strategy for the Episcopal Church, moving it away from its former paternalistic attitudes.
The City of Bethlehem remembers Ken Heim because his friendship with a man from Tondabayashi, Japan, was the seed that grew into the Sister City relationship between these two cities.
As the cherry trees bloom around the Bethlehem Public Library and the tea house, we can be grateful for Ken Heim, who was a witness to the ends of the earth.
Who has inspired you to go further than you had originally planned?