Rebecca Heilman grew up in the small town of Valdese, North Carolina, where she was raised in Waldensian Presbyterian Church. You’re probably wondering, what is this strange “W” word? Well, it is not your fault for not knowing, because, far too often, the Waldensian people are left out of the Christian history books. Simply put, the Waldensians were a religious sect developed around the 12th century who pride themselves as Christian reformers before the “official” Martin Luther reformation. A significant piece of history, right? In 1893, twenty-nine Waldensians arrived in North Carolina to prepare the arrival of several more hundred people (including Rebecca’s great, great grandfather). The Waldensian settlers pride themselves in giving birth to the manufacturing and textile town, which allowed them to escape the overcrowded alps and overwhelming poverty. When they first arrived, hungry and exhausted, a nearby Presbyterian Church sustained their survival for several years, which led the Waldensians to join the Presbyterian Church. Today, there are Waldensian settlements all over the world such as in Italy, Uruguay, Argentina, Germany, and even New York. Rebecca would be happy to talk with you more about her heritage and the Waldensian history.
Rebecca is a graduate of Presbyterian College with a degree in International Studies and Christian Education. Throughout Rebecca’s childhood, she compassionately cared for those around her and knew she wanted to “help” people when she was older. However, it wasn’t until she studied under the Rev. Dr. Rebecca L. Davis at Presbyterian College that she discerned ministry as an option or possible call. Rebecca, while studying Christian Education, was exposed to a Gospel she had never experienced. It was a Gospel where the poor, the orphans, the children, women, and the widows were uplifted instead of suppressed. Rebecca realized her passion of social justice, missions, and studying the Bible, which ultimately led her to serve as a PC(USA)Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) in Lusaka, Zambia. While living with an incredible host family and fully immersing herself in the Zambian culture, Rebecca quickly became aware of the brutal and vulnerable poverty that engulfs a Zambian’s life. She learned that her year in Zambia was more than teaching the sixth grade or doing service in an international context, but instead, learning about the ministry of presence, listening, and fully embracing a culture different from her own. When she learned this hard lesson, there was no escaping God’s call in her life.
Therefore, she attended Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, VA to study a Master of Divinity. During her first semester at Union, she looked at MAPC’s Global Mission Fellowship position and thought, “in three years, I will apply.” Fast forward three years, and she discovered Madison Avenue was offering a different call that is directed towards pastoral ministries. She never imagined God calling her to the parish until her time as a chaplain at Rex Hospital in Raleigh, NC and as an intern at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville, VA. She discerned through her internships that she carried other passions within a ministry context, like pastoral care, preaching and worship, and yes, even Hebrew. Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church’s pastoral residency combines all of her passions into one call, and even provides opportunities for areas of growth.
You’ll get to know that Rebecca is a southerner at heart! She is a book lover, a food lover, a plant lover, a dog lover, and even a Netflix lover. She is a longtime swimmer and a newly found yogi. She values deep conversations and seeks out moments of diversity so that she can embrace any culture in her vicinity. She has many, MANY extracurricular (and probably impossible) first-call goals, such as continuing to learn sign language, to read Hebrew daily, to get back into cooking, to buy lots of plants, to paint until “my hands fall off,” to attend as many Broadway shows that she can afford, and to make the perfect pimento cheese.
Rebecca is overjoyed to be at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church as its first pastoral resident! She looks forward to forming relationships with the congregants, listening to holy stories, embracing all those in need, and opening her heart to God’s urban ministry!
To see the A Note From Rebecca, which premiered in a recent issue of our weekly newsletter, The Pastoral Staff Letter, click here.