Alan F. Kreider, a mission worker, scholar and speaker who ignited contemporary Anabaptism in the United Kingdom and beyond, died May 8 at his home in Goshen, Ind. He was 75 and had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma in December.
Kreider and his wife, Eleanor, served from 1974 to 2000 in England with Mennonite Board of Missions. Initially among the first Mennonites in the U.K. in four centuries, the Kreiders for 16 years co-directed the London Mennonite Centre, shaping it into a hub of urban mission, conflict mediation and Christian discipleship. They built ecumenical bridges and opened hearts to Anabaptism in a post-Christian context.
A lifelong scholar, he was professor emeritus of church history and mission at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind., where he taught from 2004 to 2009.
AMBS President Sara Wenger Shenk felt his infectious gratitude for life when he came to worship and say farewell to his home congregation, Prairie Street Mennonite Church in Elkhart, near the end of April.
“Though frail in body, he beamed joy,” she said. “No one else, in my experience, has so personified the sweet, vitalizing fruits of the Spirit as scholar, preacher, teacher, peace evangelist, mentor and love-struck disciple of Jesus.”
Unique public voice
The Kreiders first went to London for academic research but began to discern a call to mission work in the early 1970s. They founded London Mennonite Fellowship, which met at the London Mennonite Centre, and Alan Kreider quickly became a primary preacher. The uniqueness of his Anabaptist voice led to invitations to speak publicly, including an opportunity to debate the arms race with Neil Cameron, the former Chief of the Defense Staff and Marshal of the Royal Air Force.
Under the Kreiders’ leadership, the London Mennonite Centre became a space for hospitality and worship and a springboard for Anabaptist thought and practice. He developed an Anabaptist resource center with a library and weekend workshops to discuss alternative ways to follow Jesus. A Radical Reformation study group formed.
All of these things led to the development of the Anabaptist Network in England, founded with the Kreiders’ guidance.
In the 1990s, the Kreiders’ influence continued to spread throughout the U.K. A 2000 book co-authored by Alan Kreider and Stuart Murray Williams, Coming Home: Stories of Anabaptists in Britain and Ireland, told of 60 contemporary Christians, all influenced by the Kreiders’ teaching and modeling.
“What has happened in the last 30 years or so is that the Anabaptist voice has begun to sing again,” said Stuart Murray Williams, a subsequent leader in the Anabaptist Network.
Throughout his time in England, Kreider taught theology and history at the University of Manchester and Regent’s Park College, Oxford. He and Eleanor taught and preached at conferences and colleges throughout the U.K. and continental Europe.
Trained as a historian, he learned mission and theology through self-study and practice.
“It was never clear whether Alan was a missional historian or a historian-missiologist — and that was part of his inspiring genius,” said James Krabill, a senior mission advocate at Mennonite Mission Network. “Alan held so many important themes together and did so with a mesmerizing mixture of scholarly integrity and passionate faith.”
Concluding a quarter-century of mission work in the U.K., the Kreiders settled in Elkhart in 2000 and became traveling mission educators for MMN until 2004. During this time, he was a guest lecturer around the globe.
He also taught occasional courses at AMBS before joining the faculty half time in 2004.
Friends and colleagues remember his joy and enthusiasm, hope-filled faith, warmth, gentleness, generosity, thoughtfulness, patience, humility and humor. To many, he embodied hospitality and welcome, attentiveness and concern for others as he shared his love for Jesus.
“Alan was an excellent, rigorous scholar, bubbling over with research interests even in his last weeks,” noted Rachel Miller Jacobs, AMBS assistant professor of congregational formation.
“Yet what is most striking about him is not so much his achievements, though they are considerable, but the way he inhabited them with a winsome combination of curiosity, humility, joy, creative energy and love of God and of the church.”
He was born Nov. 8, 1941, to Carl and Evelyn (Burkholder) Kreider in Goshen. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Goshen College in 1962. On June 19, 1965, he married Eleanor Graber Nase in Goshen. He completed a Ph.D. in English history from Harvard University in 1971.
Among his many published works are The Patient Ferment of the Early Church: The Improbable Rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire (Baker Academic, 2016); Worship and Mission After Christendom (Paternoster, 2009), with Eleanor Kreider; A Culture of Peace: God’s Vision for the Church (Good Books, 2005), with Eleanor Kreider and Paulus Widjaja.
In 2011, the Institute of Mennonite Studies and Herald Press released Forming Christian Habits in Post-Christendom: The Legacy of Alan and Eleanor Kreider, edited by James Krabill and Stuart Murray, which contains excerpts from the Kreiders’ writing along with almost 50 contributors responding from France, Korea, Ireland, Indonesia, England, Canada and the U.S.
He is survived by his wife, Eleanor; a son, Andrew (Katie Bast) Kreider, of Elkhart; two siblings, Rebecca (Weldon) Pries of Cambridge, Mass., and Thomas Kreider of Goshen; and three grandchildren. He was preceded in death by a brother, Stephen.
Funeral services will be held at 1 p.m. May 16 at Prairie Street Mennonite Church in Elkhart.