I heard today from his wife Eleanor that Alan Kreider passed away peacefully at 8.08 am on the 8th of May at home (the sign on the front of the Kreiders’ house reads ‘The Eighth Day’.
Alan was an outstanding historian of the early church with a PhD from Harvard in the English Reformation. He was a Mennonite, shaped by that tradition, deeply committed to the values of peacemaking and radical discipleship, and throughout his life was involved in serving the Mennonite church as a theological educator, leader, and missionary (bringing the gifts of his tradition to the wild, unevangelized territory of North London and the UK – a mission field if ever there was one). But to remember him as a Mennonite is to obscure the contribution that he and Ellie have made to the wider church. As a mentor, leader, speaker, teacher and writer, Alan engaged with and embraced the church in its full catholicity. He was as at home in convents and monasteries as he was in cell groups and conferences. His academic work, most specifically his final book on The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, is a gift that crosses confessional boundaries.
But above all I will remember Alan as a friend. He arrived to take up leadership at the Centre for Christianity and Culture at Regent’s Park College in Oxford just after I left to take up my first pastorate in Reading. But I soon became involved in the Thursday night table-group that met in Oxford weekly, and of which Alan and Ellie were indispensable members. The memories of common purpose, mutual commitment, deep listening and much, much laughter that marked the experience of that group shaped all who participated in it. Together, Alan and Ellie preached at our wedding, in the customary Kreider fashion in which each took it in turn to speak a sentence seamlessly emerging out of what the other had just said said. And when we were discerning important moves, first to Manchester and Northern Baptist College, where Alan and Ellie had also taught, and then to Australia, Alan was on hand to listen and to pose the important questions about vocation, and commitment, and what it meant to serve Christ through serving the church.
In an essay that I co-authored with Brian Haymes, published in a collection that celebrated and honoured Alan and Ellie’s legacy, we closed our discussion of friendship by citing and commenting on Bonhoeffer’s famous prison poem “The Friend”. It is with great thanks for Alan’s witness that we can now, in death, commend him into the peace of God that he embodied in life.
Far or near
in success or failure
the one recognizes in the other the true helpertoward freedom and humanity.Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “The Friend”.
Not only does Bonhoeffer write this poem in such a way as to connect human and divine friendship, but the prison location of its composition reminds us that friendship is deeply entangled with the cost of discipleship. Indeed, friendship, we suggest, is the form that discipleship takes in community as we live together in response to divine welcome and in obedience to the one who calls us friends. Alan and Ellie Kreider have embodied the “true helper toward humanity and freedom” for each other, for the two of us, and for all those who count them as friends.
Winter, Sean F. and Brian Haymes. “Friendship: Find Fellow Travellers,” Pages 117–124 in Forming Christian Habits in Post-Christendom: The Legacy of Alan and Eleanor Kreider. Edited by James R. Krabill and Stuart Murray. Harrionsburg VA: Herald, 2011., 123–124.