BROMSGROVE, England (Mennonite Mission Network and Eastern Mennonite Mission) — Participants at the Anabaptist Theology Forum applauded when former Mennonite Mission Network worker Eleanor Kreider walked into the conference room in Barnes Close near Birmingham, England. Some considered her a spiritual mentor or close friend; others had never met her, but had been influenced in some way by the years Kreider and her husband, Alan, had lived in the United Kingdom.
The two-day forum held Apr. 11-12, 2018, and organized by the Anabaptist Network U.K., brought together nearly three dozen Anabaptist-minded people from across England and Scotland, including American Mennonites living in the U.K.
The theme, "Exploring the Legacy of Alan Kreider," honored the former worker for Mission Network who passed away in May 2017, having left a spiritually rich mark on the U.K., which included fellowship groups, the London Mennonite Centre, Wood Green Mennonite Church, the Anabaptist Network, and the development of the theology forum and subsequent Centre for Anabaptist Studies, based at Bristol Baptist College.
The Kreiders first moved to London in 1965 for academic research and began their mission work, giving leadership to the London Mennonite Centre, together, in 1974. After over a quarter of a century introducing many people in the U.K. to the values of Anabaptism through teaching, relationships, and advocacy, they returned to the United States in 2000.
The forum was a mixture of theological papers, sharing of stories, an occasional hymn, and table conversations over meals and coffee. Eleanor, affectionately called Ellie by many of the participants, who often spoke publicly alongside Alan, shared candidly about the iconic Kreider technique of co-speaking. "We were a hermeneutical community of two," she said. "And we never planned the ending."
Centre for Anabaptist Studies Director Stuart Murray Williams, who commenced the forum by sharing reflections on how Alan Kreider made a distinctive contribution to the Christian community in the U.K., noted Alan's ability to connect with people from various backgrounds: "One of the outcomes of that is that the Anabaptist Network is remarkably ecumenical."
Such diversity was represented in the main papers presented by Christopher Rowland, Church of England vicar and professor at University of Oxford; Lloyd Pietersen, New Testament scholar and lecturer on the MA Anabaptist modules at Bristol Baptist College; Baptist theologian and former president of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, Brian Haymes; and Eastern Mennonite Missions (EMM) worker Carol Wert.
Currently an MA student at the Centre for Anabaptist Studies, Wert presented a paper written to fulfill requirements for her MA program, which outlined the 16th-century Anabaptist leader Pilgram Marpeck's views on leadership and limitations he placed on leaders.
Asked to present the paper by her course lecturers, Wert said it was the only paper not explicitly linked to the Kreiders' legacy. Wert noted, "I quickly realized while listening to Stuart's overview of the Kreiders' U.K. ministry, and Ellie's own stories about her life and ministry partnership with Alan, that he exemplified the same qualities I'd found in Marpeck: a pastoral heart, humility, patience, visible fruit, and open-mindedness."
The Centre for Anabaptist Studies, launched in October 2014, offers MA modules on Anabaptism, supervision for postgraduate research on Anabaptist-related themes, and annual lectures and webinars. The MA course is offered through online learning and taught block weeks, and is accessible to people worldwide.
Wert first heard about the Centre for Anabaptist Studies while attending an Eastern Mennonite Missions retreat in Quarryville, Pennsylvania, and coming across a brief article in the Mennonite World Review. She became the Centre's first MA student and attended her first Anabaptist Theology Forum in 2015. Originally from Lititz, Pennsylvania, Wert has lived in Wales for nearly 20 years and is part of an intentional missional community in Cardiff.
One forum participant and former member of Wood Green Mennonite Church, London, which closed in 2016, Veronica Zundel, said, "It's been very healing to be here amongst people of the same values and perspectives." Because of renewed interest, members of the forum are currently considering reviving the currently defunct journal Anabaptism Today.