When Pastor Edward “Ed” Heck thought about what it would mean to die, he imagined riding his Harley in heaven without getting any cramps.
“Two weeks before he died he was saying ‘I know the Lord’s gonna heal me, he’s gonna heal me one way or the other,’” senior Andrew Schneider said. “He’s gonna heal me on this earth or he’s gonna heal me and take me to heaven.”
One month after being diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer, Heck passed away at the age of 62. Community organizer and pastor of Kankakee First Church of the Nazarene, his passing has left an absence in the hearts of the family and friends who loved him.
“All of you are here today because of some ‘connection’ you had with Ed,” Heck’s wife, Kathy, wrote in a letter read at his funeral service. “He loved ‘connecting’ with people. He loved sharing life with so many people, whether it was a Sunday School class party or extended time in a surgery waiting room.”
Heck’s love was persistent. When Heck became Kankakee First’s pastor 16 years ago, Dr. Jay Martinson and his wife, Jeanette, were determined to not get close to Heck because of how close they had been to their previous pastor.
“Very quickly that fell apart because we just fell in love with him and Kathy,” Martinson said.
Martinson “always felt like there were multiple Ed Hecks” because of how present Heck was in the community and on Olivet’s campus.
Heck exuded this love throughout his life. Chaplain Mark Holcomb, who has served in ministries with Heck since 1991, wrote that the pastor was “like a brother” to him and “a mentor, a friend, and one of [his] heroes.”
Holcomb witnessed Heck bring people together in a small community in Vicksburg, Mich. when he served with Heck on staff at Memorial Church of the Nazarene several years ago. Heck created and hosted shared Baccalaureate services for local high schools in Vicksburg and also built community events around Easter and Christmas. Outside of planned events, Heck would find “excuses” to be with people such as inviting them to watch college football with him.
“Pastor Heck was great at breaking down barriers between cultures, churches and people because he was authentic and friendly,” Campus Nurse Mary Schweigert, who met Heck when he came to the church 16 years ago, wrote in an email. “His prayer for Kankakee County was to see revival that would heal our county, state and nation.”
The “revival” began in Reverend Heck, Schweigert wrote. Heck believed then in the power of the Holy Spirit working through prayer. He played a pivotal part in beginning a local pastor’s prayer meeting and bible study. He also mentored several Olivet students studying pastoral ministry.
“I believe the fruits of his labor will last into eternity,” Schweigert wrote.
Heck’s love was selfless. Senior Daneli Rabanalez did not realize how much Heck was involved with until he had passed. Having had him as a professor and as a pastor, Rabanalez was able to see his “pastor’s heart” in more than one setting. She was supposed to be his teaching assistant this fall and had a meeting with him shortly before he passed.
“He was trying to be strong for his family and his congregation,” Rabanalez said. “Even though he felt weak, his faith remained strong. He didn’t seem fearful. He seemed worried about others before himself.”
Heck’s passion for sharing life with people fueled his excellence in pastoral care. For “every sickness” that Schneider’s family had, Heck was there to minister to them. When Schneider found out that Heck was sick, he prayed every day for his pastor.
“It was like, ‘he’s prayed for us, everyone in this church. Now, it’s time for us to pray for him,’” Schneider said.
When Jeanette Martinson’s father passed away several years ago, Heck made the long drive from Kankakee to Davenport, Iowa to be with his congregants.
“Ed Heck comes walking into that visitation room. It was just unbelievable,” Jay Martinson said. “Jeanette just broke down. Like our pastor would drive three hours for someone’s funeral … we were his parishioner and he wanted to care for us.”
A few years ago, Martinson and others noticed a change in Heck. The pastor began to be more vulnerable with his congregation about his difficult upbringing. Heck grew up in a “dysfunctional family” until “some people who loved Jesus” took him in at the age of 10, according to Kathy Heck.
“He had a horrible upbringing,” Martinson said. “He started talking about this and started opening up and saw that people still loved him. Our prayer in the church just transformed; our worship became so much more free when he let his guard down and became genuine with us. Ever since then first church has been so much stronger.”
When Heck was diagnosed with cancer, he continued to be vulnerable and shared his experiences in the pulpit as well as on a blog. According to Martinson, Kankakee First is still sharing Heck’s unpublished blog posts.
“It’s like he’s still ministering to us … it’s crazy,” Martinson said with tears in his eyes.
—Nathan DiCamillo, News Editor