Feast of St Alban the Protomartyr of Britain
THERE ARE about a dozen men I’ve known who have had a huge impact on me. They are my heroes. Several of them have fallen asleep in the Lord over the last several years, including Dr. Anthony Gythiel (my most important undergraduate and graduate professor and master’s thesis director) and Gene Herr (a dear friend who encouraged and inspired me to move forward with Eighth Day Institute and to have faith in God’s provision for the venture; he also served on the original EDI Board of Directors). Last week, at the Hall of Men, I learned that another one of those heroes died on the feast day of St Arsenios the Great (May 8) in this year of our Lord 2017.
During the planning process for the fourth annual Eighth Day Symposium on “Constantine, Christendom, and Cultural Renewal,” my friend Dr. James Juhnke suggested we bring Alan Kreider to Wichita as a presenter. Jim was passionate about the importance of having a Mennonite speaker on this topic. And I agreed, as did the planning committee.
So we invited Alan. And the Symposium turned out to be a great conversation with a Mennonite voice through Kreider, an Orthodox voice through Vigen Guroian, a Reformed voice through Peter Leithart, and a Catholic voice through Benjamin Wiker. In addition to presenting at the Symposium, Alan also offered a short reflection at the Symposium’s Festal Banquet on scripture and obedience in the life of St Anthony the Great and their relevance for cultural renewal today (after my 1 minute intro to St Anthony). You can watch that reflection in our “Digital Lectern”, which offers a complimentary sampling of the growing digital content available to Eighth Day Members.
I don’t remember much about our initial email exchange when I invited him to Wichita. But I do vividly remember getting to know Alan while he was in town for the Symposium. I remember his gentleness, his graciousness, his joy in the Lord, his fascination with the early Church, his love for the Church Fathers, his passion for missions and worship, and his pastoral concern for the people around him, including myself. He was truly Christ-like. And I my admiration and respect for him deepened immensely over the course of that weekend.
From our first encounter, I felt like we connected on a deep level. This was probably largely due to our common love for the Fathers, our common experience in missions, and our common curiosity about early Christian catechesis. His plenary lecture and his breakout session focused mostly on catechesis. The plenary was a working draft of a chapter now published in a wonderful book that I’m so glad he was able to complete before succumbing to multiple myeloma: The Patient Ferment of the Early Church: The Improbable Rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire. I’m currently reading it and will be posting a review in the next couple of weeks.
When Jim told me of Alan’s passing last week, my heart was pierced. Truly. I was tending bar at the Hall of Men when he told me and I couldn’t keep the tears back (the Hall of Men isn’t ALL about burly men toasting heroes over pints; we hold hands when we bless the evening meal and occasionally tears are even shed, as in this instance). Alan and I only met once in person, but in our email exchanges we frequently expressed the hope of seeing one another in person again. That will happen, but now it will have to happen in the Kingdom.
I will miss Alan. I already miss him.
But I am also grateful for the little time I was given with Alan. I thank God for Jim’s suggestion to bring Alan to Wichita. With deep gratitude I fondly remember initially meeting him at the bookstore, talking with him at the banquet, being challenged by him in his breakout session, and saying good bye to him when he departed. And I am grateful for the email correspondence I was able to have with him after his visit. I’m thankful for the way he encouraged, even admonished, me to finish the dissertation. And I’m especially thankful for the way he urged me on with the work of EDI, assuring me that all would be well, that God would meet all of our needs. I’ve copied two of those emails below, for you to get a glimpse into the life of one of my personal heroes.
May Alan Kreider’s memory be eternal!
Renewing culture through faith and learning in Christ,
March 8, 2016
I often think of my visit to you two years ago, with all the rich experiences and learnings that being with you afforded. I think particularly about our conversation on catechesis, and hope that we can continue that someday. In the meantime, my The Patient Ferment of the Early Church is about to be published, and one long chapter of it has to do with catechesis up through Origen. I think you will enjoy it. I wonder how your own thesis is progressing, and I hope to hear from you that you have finished it. With all that you do I’m amazed that you can think of doing any fresh scholarship, but by now I know not to be amazed at that! I send you warm greetings, and my assurance of prayers that the Lord will bless the Eighth Day! Greet Warren for me!
Grace and peace,
Oct 29, 2016
It was wonderful to hear from you earlier in the month. I was glad to hear that you have been making progress on the dissertation, and that things were falling into place as you work to bring it to a conclusion. That’s an exciting time, I recall, and a time for focus. May you hold everything in proper perspective, and finish the thing!
I wish it would work for me to come to Eighth Day for next January’s symposium. I was delighted with my experience with you last time, and found you stretching my thinking in many ways. I really warm to the way you and Warren and others are moving to bring change to church and world, using books and worship (!), and would love to take part again sometime. I also was stimulated by Alan Jacobs’ piece on public intellectuals, and would like to see how your speakers will address that issue [you, the reader, can see how they addressed the issue here]. But January does not suit me this time. I’m giving a lot of attention these days to building Mennonite relations with Pentecostals, some of whom are seeking to restore their movement’s early pacifism; and I have an essay due for a book on “Mennocostals” in early February that would preclude me doing something for you in January.
Were I to come, the line that I would take is that we 21st century Western Christians have little to say to the public while our lives are so conformed to conventional commitments to security provided by insurance companies, Wall Street, burglar alarms, and violence/guns, the military. I think of a house I saw in Michigan, which had a beautiful mosaic at the front of their property, saying “In God we trust”, and then an iridescent sign in their front window saying “Beware the dog”! I am moved by Minucius Felix and Cyprian who repeated these words that may have been a slogan for the North African Christians: “We do not preach great things; we live them.” I don't know how this would fit the general discussion, but I think it’s something that we need to learn from the Fathers and find ways to live today. And what I saw in you people is that you are attempting to be Christianly countercultural, which gave me hope. Someday, either at an Eighth Day Symposium or some other time I’m in Kansas, I’d like to get together with you for a good talk - to hear your story and concerns and to share mine. And I hope you'll like my book and sell it at the Eighth Day!
This comes to you with warm greetings in Christ,
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Erin Doom is the founder and director of Eighth Day Institute. He lives in Wichita, KS with his wife Christiane and their four children, Caleb Michael, Hannah Elizabeth, Elijah Blaise, and Esther Ruth.