Many Elizabethtown College students might see Dr. Conrad Kanagy as an associate professor in the sociology department. When he packs up and leaves campus, however, he takes on the role of pastor at the Elizabethtown Mennonite Church, as well as that of husband, father, friend, chef and many others.
When Kanagy moved to the area and found out about an opening in the sociology department, he applied for a one-year position at Etown while still working on his doctorate dissertation at The Pennsylvania State University, where his assistantship was in research. “I don’t think I know how else to say it, except I felt like God led me here because I was a new graduate in the middle of finishing my dissertation, so I hadn’t even graduated yet,” Kanagy said. During that first year as a professor in 1993, the College offered him a tenure-track position. That makes this his 19th year at Etown.
“I still feel the same way about teaching here and being part of this community as I did at the beginning. I love being at Elizabethtown College,” Kanagy said. “It’s been a great place for me to do all the things that I love to do. I really can’t imagine being anywhere else where I just felt so blessed and so able to do the things I love to do.”
Kanagy learned much of what he knows now about teaching when he arrived on campus, teaching himself much of what he learned. Dr. Donald Kraybill of the Young Center also mentored Kanagy. “Over the years [he] has just been a very important person in giving counsel, helping me to think carefully about my teaching and research … [he] remains important as a mentor,” Kanagy said.
Kanagy hopes his students learn three things from him, the first being a critical perspective of the world in which they live. He hopes, through his classes, that students will be able to step back from their world and look at it from a new, different perspective.
Kanagy wants students to understand their world better, to think critically about it and to challenge it. “That’s what sociologists do, but I think it’s also an important skill that one can develop that helps one make better choices in life,” Kanagy said. “Because when we don’t take time to reflect honestly and realistically on ourselves, on our world, on our marriages, on our families, on our children, the people we interact with, then I think we often make choices that aren’t carefully thought out, that are not intentional and that are often destructive.”
The second lesson he hopes students take away from him is wisdom, about the world as well as themselves. Kanagy hopes students see their importance and their abilities to make a difference in the world. “For me it’s as simple as saying that I think God gives us each purpose and a calling,” Kanagy said. “So whether my students believe in God or not, I think there’s still purpose for them and something to which they are especially gifted at, uniquely prepared for, and I want to help them achieve that.”
His third lesson is: “caring about the world in which [his students] live and the people in that world, not taking their lives and the people around them for granted.” Kanagy believes this lesson is important because his family learned it during his battle with thyroid cancer from 2000 to 2003, and his wife Heidi’s battle with ovarian cancer in 2008.
Kanagy served as a pastor at Elizabethtown Mennonite Church from 2000 to 2005. He then resigned to do research on the Mennonite church in the United States and the Global South. This research helped him decide to return as senior pastor to the same congregation this past October.
“Part of me was really desiring to again be part of a local congregation and the leadership of a local congregation where I could try to apply some of what I felt like I had learned in the last five or six years about other churches and put some of that into practice,” Kanagy said. “So, I feel a bit like this was a kind of experiment that I’m engaged in.”
This time around is different for Kanagy, as he had the congregation agree to some conditions before restarting his job as a pastor. “I told the congregation I would only serve if it was voluntary, if Heidi and I could serve together and if they hired some folks to help me, and they’ve agreed to all of those,” Kanagy said. He and his wife, a social worker, did a lot of work within the church together originally, but they wanted her role to be more established this time. The church also hired an additional pastor, Dean Landis, to assist Kanagy in church duties. “He’s doing much of the pastoral care, and he’s leading our worship,” Kanagy said.
The two roles as professor and pastor may seem different, but Kanagy believes there are enough similarities to allow him to hold two jobs that he enjoys. He also likes public speaking, which is necessary when giving sermons and lectures. “I think my years of teaching have helped me in preparing sermons with ease,” Kanagy said. He also feels his audiences are similar. “I also just genuinely care about people and what’s going on in people’s lives, and I feel that way about my students and I feel that way about the people in my congregation as well.”
When Kanagy described his duties at the church, he placed them under three categories: pastoring and teaching, pastoral care and administration. He preaches about three times a month and teaches when needed. Pastoral care includes visits with hospital patients, pre-marital counseling, which he does with his wife, weddings and funerals. Administrative care includes organizing Sunday services, with which he gets help from the associate pastor.
Kanagy and his wife have been married for 24 years. They have a 23-year-old son, Jacob, who graduated college in May 2011 and currently works in Washington, D.C. Kanagy has lived in two houses over the past 12 years, both within a block of the College. “It’s been fun to feel very close to the College. We walk through the campus a lot; our son Jacob feels like he sort of grew up on campus,” Kanagy said. “We feel very much at home and we’re very, very grateful.”