Heitzenrater, who will turn 69 in November, has the trim build of an athlete and still has a quiet excitement about his work. He speaks softly, methodically turning pages back and forth to show cross-references, and pulling out various sources to help wrest meaning from the words. Within easy reach of his desk are floor-to-ceiling shelves with hundreds of books, many from Baker’s collection.
Crowded on the shelves and tables are evidence of Heitzenrater’s wide-ranging interests. Busts and statues of John and Charles Wesley are squeezed among the volumes. His collection of Swiss cowbells sits on shelves, tables, and his desk, along with track trophies-he was the 1,500 meter gold medalist in the 1993 State Games of North Carolina for runners age 50 and older. High on one shelf sits a one-quarter-scale working replica of a Franklin printing press, which he made.
Sitting at his desk, Heitzenrater points to a notation at the bottom of a diary page: "P,V, L. U, P, C.” Underneath there are two words in Greek, then "Unl" and "Mark. Cold.”
“I don’t know what this means yet," Heitzenrater says. P,V, L, and U appear to mean "proud, vain or unclean thoughts,” based on a reference on the same page. But what about Unl? Unless? Unlimited? Mark could be the Gospel of Mark, or a mark like a notation. Cold could refer to physical temperature or to spiritual "temperature," which Wesley often described as cold or indifferent.
And once he has figured out what Wesley wrote, Heitzenrater has to figure out what he meant.
“It’s now 2008, and I'm still puzzling over it," Heitzenrater says.”If you get discouraged, you shouldn’t be a historian.”
As much as he has loved spending his career among old volumes, Heitzenrater’s interests spread beyond his scholarly work. His field may be the 18th century, but he’s a Renaissance man.
He has worked on a farm and owned a printing company; he ran track and cross-country as a Duke undergraduate for the famous coach Al Buehler and has been a track official; he sings bass in the Duke Chapel choir and plays the saxophone; he is a master wood craftsman.
He created the black locust wood cross in the Jones Prayer Room, for example, and the three-sided bulletin board in the entrance to the Westbrook Building. Heitzenrater has moved two tobacco barns to his property in Sylva, N.C., and is in the process of moving and rebuilding a third old barn. He designs websites and uses PowerPoint with video for class lectures. He’s also a photographer.
Heitzenrater designed the Divinity School logo of a cross and a boat when he was working on his master’s degree. He earned all three of his degrees at Duke, and sent all three of his children here.
“The breadth of his curiosity and competency is quite extraordinary,” Jones says.
Even Maddox—a leading Wesley scholar himself, and head of the Center for Studies in the Wesleyan Tradition—says working with Heitzenrater “can be a bit intimidating. He’s always got six or seven irons in the fire.”
‘Have I Done Everything for the Glory of God?’
Heitzenrater grew up in rural, upstate New York. His father, uncle, and grandfather were Methodist ministers and his sister was a nurse, so he arrived at Duke in 1957 thinking he'd become a medical missionary. But he changed his mind after a course on Christian history.