Continuity and Change Among Canadian Mennonite Brethren
Peter M. Hamm. Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1987. 278 pages.
In this empirical case study Hamm defines the Mennonite Brethren in Canada as a sectarian movement that embodies a distinct religious, social, and political order and which voluntarily separates itself from the larger environment in order to exercise what it perceives to be normative for living out its belief and practice (p. 11). On the basis of that thesis he analyzes the forces of sacralization and secularization which foster the growth and decline of this relatively small denomination within its larger cultural context.
While the author uses the technical vocabulary of the social scientist in Part I as a tool to describe and measure the forces that shape the church, he leads the average reader to more familiar turf in Part II where he traces Mennonite Brethren history, correctly insisting that “an analysis of a religious movement must take seriously its beginnings” (p. 46).
In Parts III and IV Hamm points out the “dialectic force,” or tensions confronting and challenging their identity as a Believers’ Church on the Canadian frontier. Hamm concludes in Part V that the Canadian Mennonite Brethren can survive and prosper as a sectarian movement, even in times of hardship, change, and transition (p. 247).
An extensive bibliography of primary and secondary sources, 54 tables, and a detailed index add to the usefulness of this scholarly monograph. The subject should be of interest not only to the Mennonite Brethren, but also to the larger Mennonite community and to other sectarian groups.