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Spring 1988 · Vol. 17 No. 1 · pp. 118–19 

Book Review

The Journey of a Church

Orlando Harms. Hillsboro, KS: Center for M.B. Studies, 1987. 461 pages.

Reviewed by Richard Kyle

This book is a history of the Hillsboro Mennonite Brethren Church, one of the leading Mennonite Brethren congregations in North America. The study is comprehensive, tracing the major developments of the church through its first one hundred years (1881-1981), but at the same time intended for a lay audience. Moreover, the book has been written from the perspective of an insider. Orlando Harms, the former editor of the Christian Leader, has been both a member and a leader of the Hillsboro Mennonite Brethren Church for forty-five years. This publication is Harms’ second book.

Harms has developed his book sequentially, beginning with the origins of the church and constructing his chronology around the terms of the church’s seven senior pastors. In between, he describes the wider national trends that corresponded with a particular pastoral era, noting the major political, economic, religious, and cultural developments. Furthermore, the author sets this history in the context of other Mennonite Brethren unfoldings, especially those of Tabor College and the Hillsboro area. Such an approach has enabled Harms not only to describe detailed events but also to focus on the changes that the church underwent during a particular pastoral era, especially those related to the Americanization process, including the transition from German to English, the movement to a salaried professional ministry, and the decline in evangelism and church discipline. Moreover, the author appropriately notes the church’s close relationship with Tabor College and both the rise and decline of Hillsboro as the center of Mennonite Brethren activity in North America.

Harms’ book has many strong points. The author demonstrates the unique origin of an important Mennonite Brethren church. Though the book is the history of one church, it is a definite contribution to the understanding of the Mennonite Brethren experience in the United States. Moreover, it is adequately researched and written. Nevertheless, the book suffers from a major problem that reduces its historical value: on {119} occasions the author’s approach is “devotional” and “pietistic,” thus projecting the appearance of a sermon. Still, the book has much value and deserves a serious reading.

Richard Kyle, Professor of History and Religion, Tabor College

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