Reflections in honor of Alan Kreider (1941–2017)

Published: May 10, 2017

Below is a sampling of testimonials from current and former members of the AMBS community honoring Alan F. Kreider, AMBS professor emeritus of church history and mission and a long-time mission worker in England. Kreider, 75, died peacefully in the presence of his family at his home in Goshen, Indiana, on May 8, 2017, after having been diagnosed with multiple myeloma in December 2016. Comments are shared with permission. (See also: AMBS professor emeritus remembered for joy, hospitality and winsome faith)

Andy Alexis-Baker (MATS 2007)

I think that all Alan wanted for me, and probably for all his students, is to live a beautiful life. As my former professor, he taught me to see beautiful lives in the subject he loved, the early church. As friends, he taught me what it meant to live goodness and beauty and move beyond the academic trappings so prevalent in my field. In and out of the classroom, Alan radiated joy, compassion, and love. Alan was my professor. He was my friend. And I will miss him dearly. Now that I am a professor myself, I certainly hope that I am living the kind of beauty, goodness and truth that Alan demonstrated. It is all he really wanted from me: be beautiful. Just be. For that, I am ever grateful.

Fridbert August (MDiv 2011)

I'll never forget the day he invited me to lunch. He — the professor — wanted to learn from me (!) about something we discussed in class. Humble wisdom.

Bev Baumgartner (MDiv 2000)

I saw Alan most recently at Deep Faith at AMBS last October. The small group of us learning more about his book Patient Ferment met in the chapel and — what can I say? — he held that space with us in a most attentive and joyful fashion. It was a time imbued with sacredness.

Alison Brookins (MDiv student)

On the death of Mennonite historian Alan Kreider, I find myself reflecting on the time I accidentally emailed him a question I meant to send to my professor Allan (Rudy-Froese). We had never met, but instead of ignoring the email or tersely informing me I had the wrong man, he wrote two paragraphs trying to answer my question and expressing his sincere hope that I manage to work it out. Alan was a spectacular human being.

Alicia Buhler (MDiv 2011)

Embodiment of hospitality and welcome. Alan passed along the truth and embrace of belonging to me, and then gently encouraged me to keep the momentum going and pass along a generous welcome to others.

Lori Durbin (MDiv 2010)

Alan's smile always lit up a room because he was genuinely happy to see you. I always felt welcomed in his classes. He will be greatly missed.

Joanne Gallardo (MDiv 2010)

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. I still remember him pulling me aside one day and telling me, knowing that my schedule was packed, "Joanne, maybe you should practice saying 'no.' I find it very refreshing." Another Alan lesson I learned. And I was honored to have Alan and Ellie speak for the a Augsburger Lecture Series when I was on the Intellectual Life Committee at EMU. I have many more memories, but I am afraid I am writing a book here. 🙂

Ken D. Gingerich (alumnus)

Alan is one of those people whose life had a huge impact on so many of us who had the privilege of knowing him as an instructor, mentor, friend. He was helping teach History of Western Civ in my first foray into higher education at Goshen College. I took a single winter term class and decided to go on via Hesston, back to Goshen and wrapping up at Bethel. Years later I encountered Alan and Ellie as I scratched out a year of credits at AMBS. Alan literally opened and closed my formal educational adventures. He had a profound impact on my spiritual formation as an adult. His huge intellect was only surpassed by his even bigger heart. He was totally attentive to whoever he was talking to. He always left me feeling like my own viewpoints and experiences mattered and he left us with amazing insight into the life and experience of pre-Christendom Christians, and leaves a legacy of hope and optimism that I will always cherish. The great "crowd" of witnesses has received an amazing new member.

Jean Kilheffer Hess (MATS 2004)

Alan's classes left an impression. He brought an irrepressible joy to the classroom and a sense of wonder and adventure. I appreciated his ability to listen and be kind and push back with great questions. My thoughts are with his family and all who loved him.

Rachel Miller Jacobs (AMBS assistant professor of congregational formation)

Alan was an excellent, rigorous scholar, bubbling over with research interests even in his last weeks. 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.

Ted Koontz (AMBS professor emeritus of ethics and peace studies)

Alan’s gifts were numerous, special and generously shared. One that I especially treasure was the gift of friendship. Over many long lunch conversations with Alan and meals that Alan and Eleanor shared with Gayle and me, we became friends. This was no ordinary friendship, however, because Alan was ready — eager — to listen and to share truthfully and passionately about what matters most: Christian faith and its joys and struggles. As I know he was to many others also, he was not only a “friend” but also a mentor, a guide, one who illuminated the Christian way. He encouraged me, grieved with me and shared about his own faith journey. 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. What was it that enabled this spirit, and the deep friendships it allowed?

Unsurprisingly, since he was a Christian, but with unusual clarity, it was commitment to, and faith in, the God of Jesus Christ and encounters with that God, undergirded and sustained by many practices, habits, disciplines — foremost the practice of regular, intentional worship and prayer. Because he cultivated such “habits of the heart,” he could be hopeful, seeing God at work in all the messiness of our world, our churches and our lives. If he sometimes couldn’t see it he was puzzled, but he trusted that God was still patiently at work. And because he shared the gift of friendship I was — we were — enabled to notice traces of God’s work too. Thanks be to God.

Benjamin Krauss (MDiv student)

I am sad to not have had the privilege to take a class with Alan in my time at AMBS, but his influence is felt throughout the global network of Mennonites that shape me. The few interactions I had with him in my time in Elkhart, his humility and humor were subtly dismantling my undue reverence for this intellect. Rest in peace, Alan.

Cara Caudill Pfeiffer (MATS 2010)

I agree with what others have said here. I'd also like to add that part of what made him so special was his thoughtful intentionality. He shared the story once of kneading dough day after day with Catholic sisters in England to whom he had turned for spiritual direction. If I remember correctly he was left alone and silent to knead day after day. At first it was frustrating because he thought he was wasting his time. Over time, though, he realized the wisdom of the discipline. Before anything else, he needed to learn how to knead — to be silent and alone, to slow down and make something of value, to be intentional and reflective. That, I think, sums up Alan, a lifetime of humbly and joyfully learning to knead dough and then breaking his bread with anyone he encountered. Every experience I ever had of Alan (and Eleanor) was so sweet, so life-giving. It is hard to accept his absence, though I do smile at the thought of his sparkling eyes seeing Jesus, the one to whom he devoted everything.

Austin Roberts (MAPS 2016)

I was able to hear Alan speak several times during my time at seminary, and I deeply enjoyed both the content of his talks and the conversation we were able to have when we would run into each other. It was particularly encouraging to me to hear Alan's stories of his work with some of my colleagues from Youth With A Mission (YWAM) during the reconciliation walk — stories which helped me to bridge in my own mind my experience as an Anabaptist and my experience as a missionary in an interdenominational setting. I crossed paths with Alan on a path alongside the AMBS prairie on one of the last days of my studies, and in our conversation he blessed my journey towards my now current work integrating missions, discipleship, and reconciliation in Northern Ireland with YWAM. The goodness of Christ which Alan exuded in those interactions as well as in his writings continue to serve as a model both in my life and in my understanding.

Joe Sawatzky (MDiv 2005)

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: Pre-Christendom, Christendom, and Post-Christendom as the basic framework for Christian history; belief, behavior, and belonging as the basic categories of the Christian life; early Christian practices such as the holy kiss as an expression that Christ had broken down the dividing wall of hostility; the centrality of Isaiah 2 in the teaching of the early church, the vision of people from every nation drawn together under the rule of the Messiah. I think of Alan as something of an "Abraham" who left his home and kindred and worshiped wherever he went ("built an altar"), and in so doing became a blessing to the nations. Abraham looked forward to the day of Christ; Alan looked "back" on it — "he saw it and was glad" (John 8:56).

Sarah Schlegel (MDiv Connect student)

During my Sabbatical Fall of 2011, I studied full-time at AMBS. One of my classes was with Alan, and every week he would ask us "What do you see?" It didn't matter if we were looking at art or an assigned text – the question was always "What do you see?" This question shaped my Sabbatical and continues to be one I live with today. What is God calling me to see? I am forever grateful to God that I had Alan as a professor while at AMBS.

Sara Wenger Shenk (AMBS president)

We are deeply grieving the death of Alan F Kreider (1941-2017). A little over two weeks ago Alan came to Prairie Street, his home church family, to say farewell. His infectious gratitude for life radiated throughout the room. 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. Rest in peace beloved friend and holy man of God.

Jason Vance (MDiv 2010)

I will always remember Alan's enthusiasm, bright smile and gentle spirit! He made history come alive when he taught. He made me care about history like no one else ever has! And outside of the classroom, he was also one of the most encouraging and supportive people I knew at AMBS. At first, his attentiveness and genuine concern for me made me feel very special. But I soon realized he had this same care for almost everyone he talked​ to! Alan will surely be missed, but not soon forgotten! Thank you, Alan, for being such a great example of a joyful servant of the church!

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