AMBS professor emeritus remembered for joy, hospitality and winsome faith

Published: May 10, 2017

By Annette Brill Bergstresser

ELKHART, Indiana (Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary) — Faculty, staff, students and alumni of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) in Elkhart, Indiana, are joining people across the world in mourning the loss of a beloved professor, scholar, preacher, mentor and friend.

Tributes and testimonials in honor of Alan F. Kreider, AMBS professor emeritus of church history and mission and a long-time mission worker in England, have been pouring in via the seminary’s Facebook page and alumni Facebook group since Kreider’s death on May 8, 2017. Kreider, 75, died peacefully in the presence of his family at his home in Goshen, Indiana, after having been diagnosed with multiple myeloma in December 2016.

Qualities emerging consistently in comments honoring Kreider include his deep joy and irrepressible enthusiasm, hope-filled faith, warmth, gentleness, generosity, thoughtfulness, patience, humility and humor. To many who wrote to share their condolences and reflections, Kreider embodied hospitality and welcome, attentiveness and genuine 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, who met weekly with Kreider and others in the AMBS community for intercessory prayer. “His thoughtful writing, generous mentoring and spirited teaching enriched countless people. 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.”

“These words utterly fail to capture what a gift Alan was to so many, and the deep hole his death leaves in our hearts,” she added.

Kreider taught at AMBS as adjunct professor in church history and evangelism from 1999 to 2004 and half time as a professor of church history and mission from 2004 until his retirement in 2009. He continued to teach occasional AMBS courses and independent studies in retirement while also pursuing his interests in research and writing.

Prior to coming to AMBS, he and Eleanor Kreider, his wife, served from 1974 to 2000 in England with Mennonite Board of Missions. During this time, the Kreiders directed the London Mennonite Centre (1974–1991), helping shape it into a teaching and resource center of urban mission, conflict mediation and Christian discipleship in the Anabaptist tradition. Kreider also served as director of the Centre for the Study of Christianity and Culture at Regent’s Park College, Oxford University (1995–2000); as an itinerant preacher and speaker; and as a founder of the Anabaptist Network in England. Following their return to the U.S. in 2000, the Kreiders served with Mennonite Mission Network as international mission educators until he joined the AMBS faculty in 2004. (See related article from Mission Network.)

According to AMBS Dean Rebecca Slough, the AMBS community benefited greatly from Kreider’s wealth of experience as a teacher in settings across the world as well as a missionary, preacher, scholar and host.

“His intellectual pursuits were interwoven with his ministry — looking to what the church needs to hear or recover from its past for the sake of its present mission,” she said, noting that while it is common in scholarship to define and focus on one specialty, Kreider’s interests ranged widely.

Kreider’s former students testify to the profound impact that he had on their lives — personally, spiritually and professionally.

Joe Sawatzky (MDiv 2005) of Goshen, church relations representative with Mission Network and a former mission worker in South Africa, wrote on Facebook, “Anna and I left AMBS for our assignment in South Africa in 2005, full of Alan’s teachings. I didn’t take along many books, but The Change of Conversion and Worship and Evangelism in Pre-Christendom made the cut. When I had to pull together a teaching on the History of Christianity, I realized how much of my thinking was shaped by concepts I learned through Alan. … I think of Alan as something of an ‘Abraham’ who left his home and kindred and worshiped wherever he went, and in so doing became a blessing to the nations.”

Joanne Gallardo (MDiv 2010), a mental health case manager in Washington, D.C., shared, “I’ve always been wary of the concept of ‘mission,’ so it was with some suspicion and trepidation that I took a course with Alan in 2008. I was completely blown away. He turned my traditional view of mission upside down and helped me understand the true concept of ‘church’ and ecclesiastical responsibility. ‘God, what are you doing, and how can I help?’ is a question I have taken to heart ever since that first class, and the many from him that followed.”

Ted Koontz of Elkhart, professor emeritus of ethics and peace studies, counted Kreider not only as a colleague but also as a friend, mentor and guide.

“Alan was ready — eager — to listen and to share truthfully and passionately about what matters most: Christian faith and its joys and struggles,” Koontz said. “What struck me most was that his faith was not Pollyannish — he saw clearly that there is much to discourage and grieve us, but he was nevertheless joyful, hopeful and filled with gratitude.”

Koontz said he believes that Kreider’s commitment to and encounters with God — “undergirded and sustained by many practices, habits and disciplines … foremost the practice of regular, intentional worship and prayer” — enabled his hope, helping him to see God at work “in all the messiness of our world, our churches and our lives.”

“Because he shared the gift of friendship, I was — we were — enabled to notice traces of God’s work, too,” he added.

AMBS President Sara Wenger Shenk spoke of experiencing Kreider’s 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! 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. From our early years in Europe to the present, he and his amazing soulmate, Ellie, have called out the best of faith, hope and love in Gerald and me as in so many around the world.”

Kreider earned a Ph.D. in English history from Harvard University in 1971 and a B.A. from Goshen College in 1962. He also studied at Heidelberg (Germany) University and Princeton University. Among his many published works are the books 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; Composing Music for Worship (Canterbury Press, 2003), co-edited with Stephen Darlington; The Origins of Christendom in the West (T. & T. Clark, 2001); Coming Home: Stories of Anabaptists in Britain and Ireland (Pandora Press, 2000) co-edited with Stuart Murray; and The Change of Conversion and the Origin of Christendom: Christian Mission and Modern Culture (Trinity Press International, 1999).

In 2009, Kreider was also featured in Resident but Alien: How the Early Church Grew, a six-session Youth With a Mission DVD project focusing on the early church. In November 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 with almost 50 contributors responding from France, Korea, Ireland, Indonesia, England, Canada and the U.S.

Kreider was invited to give the commencement address at AMBS’s 2016 commencement service on May 21, 2016. His address, “Finding patience,” can be viewed on YouTube.

Kreider was born Nov. 8, 1941, in Goshen, the son of Carl and Evelyn (Burkholder) Kreider. He was preceded in death by his father in February 2002, his mother in April 2017, and his brother Stephen in 2013. He is survived by his wife, Eleanor, and son, Andrew (Katie Bast) of Elkhart; two siblings, Rebecca (Weldon) Pries of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Thomas Kreider of Goshen; and three grandchildren, Joseph, Daniel and Eleanor Rose Kreider.

Services will be held Tuesday, May 16, at Prairie Street Mennonite Church, 1316 Prairie Street, Elkhart. Friends may call starting at noon; a 1 p.m. worship service will be followed by refreshments and storytelling.

See also:


  • Alan Kreider, professor emeritus of church history and mission, taught courses at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in church history, peace, mission, evangelism and worship.
  • Eleanor and Alan Kreider at an event co-sponsored by AMBS in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January 2013.
  • Alan Kreider, AMBS professor emeritus of church history and mission, visits with Andy Brubacher Kaethler, AMBS assistant professor of Christian formation and culture, at a book release celebration for Youth Ministry at a Crossroads, edited by Brubacher Kaethler and Bob Yoder in September 2011. (Credit: Peter Ringenberg)
  • Regina Shands Stoltzfus, former AMBS staff, and Alan Kreider lead worship at AMBS. (Credit: Mary E. Klassen)
  • Alan Kreider, professor emeritus of church history and mission, gives the address at AMBS’s 2016 commencement service on May 21, 2016. (Credit: Nekeisha Alayna Alexis)

Want to receive AMBS news and updates via email?