, news editor, Adventist World
A team of sharpshooters and bomb-sniffing dogs guarded the Review and Herald Publishing Association in Hagerstown, Maryland.
Dozens of employees waited, expectantly, in the front lobby.
Then the chartered helicopter swooped down onto the grassy lawn with the Soviet Union’s top religious affairs official, Konstantin Kharchev, and his host, General Conference president Neal C. Wilson.
Moments later Kharchev entered the building to applause from employees. He smiled broadly and clasped his hands together in gratitude, as seen in rare video footage from the Review and Herald’s archive.
Harold “Bud” Otis Jr., president of the Review and Herald at the time of the October 1986 visit, choked up with emotion when he recalled Kharchev’s reaction to the roaring printing presses.
“We were printing the Adventist Review, 30,000 an hour, just clicking them off,” Otis said in a videotaped interview in 2013 (see video below). “And he tapped me on the shoulder, and he said, ‘You must come to Russia and build a publishing house like this.’”
And the Adventist Church did.
It is stories like this that cement the legacy of the Review and Herald Publishing Association as a leading force in the Seventh-day Adventist Church—even as it enters a new era as a publisher without its own printing facilities for the first time since the 1850s.
The General Conference, which owns the Review and Herald, along with the publishing house’s elected constituency, decided in June to close the Hagerstown plant after years of financial losses. The General Conference will retain ownership of the Review and Herald’s intellectual property and publish many of its books and other literature, including Adventist Review and Adventist World, under the Review and Herald imprint at Pacific Press, the church’s other major publishing house in the United States.
“The Review and Herald has had a long history of proclaiming the Advent truth, and we are extremely grateful for that heritage—which will not end,” said current General Conference president Ted N.C. Wilson, whose father took the Soviet official on the tour of Review and Herald.
“We are very grateful for the dedicated service of Review and Herald employees through the years,” Wilson said. “Many souls will be in heaven because of this.”
The Hagerstown closure deeply disappointed Review and Herald employees, many of whom had worked there for decades. About a dozen current and former employees, speaking in interviews at the plant, by phone, and by e-mail, spoke passionately about their longing for the plant to remain open.
But not one spoke of disaffection with the Adventist Church. Instead, their faces lit up as they put personal sadness aside to share stories about the role that the Review and Herald has played in proclaiming Jesus’ soon return.
“The power of the press is humbling,” said Mark B. Thomas, the Review and Herald’s president from 2010 to 2014 and a longtime employee. “Working for the Review and Herald kind of felt like being from the Mercedes factory of publishing.”
PROMO REEL: A 40-second film that Review and Herald produced about the visit of the Soviet Union’s top religious affairs official, Konstantin Kharchev, in October 1986.
Thomas witnessed the visit by Kharchev, chairman of the Soviet Council of Religious Affairs. Kharchev stopped by the Review and Herald during a 12-day visit to the U.S. that also included meetings with leaders from other religious denominations in New York and Atlanta. It was the first such visit in U.S.-Soviet history.
“It was cool because there was Secret Service everywhere,” Thomas said in an interview in his office. “There were sharpshooters on the building, there were sniffer dogs. We have a helicopter pad, but they wouldn’t let him land there because of 70.”
Interstate 70 is a major highway a short distance from the Review and Herald building.
On the helicopter ride back to Washington, D.C., Kharchev reminded Otis, who was seated beside him, about his desire for a publishing house.
“All of the way back to Washington he outlined the plan for how it was going to happen,” Otis said in a telephone interview.
“He and I hit it off from the very beginning,” he said. “God planned it that way, of course.”
Otis decided to go to the Soviet Union after the cold winter months. But Kharchev pressed him to come sooner, so Otis and his wife, Rose, caught a flight to Moscow in January 1987. Otis said Kharchev immediately began returning the kindness that he had been shown at the Review and Herald—and multiplied it.
“He met us at the airport and took us through the diplomatic entrance into the country,” Otis said. “He treated us royally. He gave me a two-week opportunity to go around the country, preaching in our churches in areas that hadn’t seen an Adventist pastor from the General Conference since 1917."
The Review and Herald’s roots go back to 1849, when Adventist Church cofounder James White started a journal called The Present Truth, the forerunner of the Adventist Review, in the U.S. A year later he launched a second journal called The Advent Review, and soon combined the two into the Second Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, which became The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald a year later. White moved to print the journal himself on a small printing press that he acquired in 1852.
No laws recognized nonprofit organizations in those days, so White owned the whole operation. Early Adventists felt wary about organizing a formal church, but they also realized that if something happened to White, they could lose everything. So they agreed to form a publishing house, but which they named the Seventh-day Adventist Publishing Association, which became commonly known as the Review and Herald.
The early publishing house and the journal were essentially the same entity, and the journal was credited with holding together and coalescing the Adventist movement before it officially organized as a church in 1863.
“For almost our entire history the church paper was indissolubly tied to the publishing house and the church,” said William G. Johnsson, editor of the Adventist Review from 1982 to 2006. “For the church, the Review was the leading edge, binding the Adventist people together in hope, doctrine, and mission.”
Gerald Wheeler, a Review and Herald history buff and longtime book editor at the publishing house, said the journal held a community-building role similar to social media today.
“It was the Facebook of the time,” Wheeler said in an interview with his wife, prolific Adventist author Penny Estes Wheeler. “The church consisted of isolated members who were different from the rest of the people. The Review provided a way of communicating with each other. They could express their disappointments, fears, frustrations, and loneliness.”
“As you read the letters to the editor, some of this comes through,” said Penny Estes Wheeler.
The Adventist Review began to separate from Review and Herald in 1982, when the publishing house moved to Hagerstown from a complex that it shared with the General Conference in Takoma Park, Maryland. The journal’s editorial offices stayed at the General Conference’s headquarters, which are now in Silver Spring, Maryland.
In recent years the Adventist Review and its younger sister journal, Adventist World, have accounted for a significant 25 percent of the Review and Herald’s gross annual sales. Pacific Press will start printing both journals in 2015.
“The mission of the Adventist Review goes forward unchanged even as the Review and Herald ceases printing,” said Bill Knott, editor of Adventist Review and Adventist World.
The publishing house later emerged from the shadow of the journal and may be best known today for commissioning one of the most expensive and complex projects in Adventist publishing history: the popular 10-volume Bible Story children’s books by Arthur S. Maxwell.
Released from 1953 to 1957, the books retell more than 400 stories that span the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. What made the project so remarkable was the Review and Herald’s decision to place color pictures on nearly every page of the book. The initiative required hundreds of paintings, produced mostly by artists Harry Anderson and Russell Harlan, and many, many hours of prepress preparation in the predigital age.
The investment was huge for its time, with Thomas putting the cost in the tens of thousands of dollars, and would have threatened to bankrupt similar enterprises. Even today, many Adventist publishers would be hard pressed to initiate such an undertaking, said Kim Peckham, head of corporate communications for the Review and Herald.
“The Philippine publishing house, for example, could never afford to do this, so we gave them rights to publish. We gave Pacific Press rights to publish, too,” Peckham said.
The Pacific Press Publishing Association, also founded by James White, is only slightly younger than the Review and Herald.It began in Oakland, California, in 1874 and remained in the area for more than a century before moving to Nampa, Idaho, in 1984.
“This was the motherhouse,” Peckham said. “This is where it started.”
In its heyday the Review and Herald published 30,000 sets of The Bible Story a year, and Pacific Press produced a similar number, he said. Another 15,000 sets a year were printed by the Southern Publishing Association, a church-owned publishing house that merged with the Review and Herald in 1980.
The Review and Herald also initiated other major projects, including the seven-volume Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary released from 1953 to 1957, edited by longtime church editor F.D. Nichol and incorporating the scholarly work of dozens of Adventist theologians. Magabooks, a line of books published in a magazine format that students sell to earn tuition money, began in 1986 with an abridged version of Ellen G. White’s Christ’s Object Lessons titled He Taught Love. It had an initial print run of 300,000.
The Review and Herald helped reenergize the distribution of sharing books in 2009 when it released an inexpensive edition of Ellen G. White’s The Great Controversy, a project spearheaded by Adventist layman Jack Henderson. The book cost a then-unheard-of 60 cents each to produce, and the Review and Herald offered to mail a copy anywhere in the U.S. for $1.10. It has shipped more than 2 million copies.
The Great Controversy Project also sparked the interest of Ted N.C. Wilson, the current General Conference president, who challenged the Review and Herald and other Adventist publishing houses around the world to distribute 100 million copies of the book. A total of 142 million full and abridged editions of The Great Controversy ended up being distributed, including 20 million electronic downloads.
REMEMBERING THE RUSSIAN: Harold “Bud” Otis Jr., president of Review and Herald from 1978 to 1988, remembering Kharchev's visit in a five-minute excerpt of a 2013 interview taped by Kim Peckham, head of corporate communications for Review and Herald.
During his first visit to Moscow, Otis told Kharchev how local Adventist pastors sorely lacked books and training. In just a few months, Otis said, Soviet authorities offered the Adventist Church a burned-out school building for a seminary on the land where Zaoksky Adventist University now stands.
Otis spoke highly of Kharchev, saying, “He had the highest respect for the church and treated us as if we were world-class diplomats.”
The Adventist publishing house, Source of Life, opened on Zaoksky’s premises in 1992, churning out books on a printing press that Otis helped to supply.
Otis said he acquired the $3 million printing press from a man in Sweden who had hoped to publish Russian Bibles but had gone bankrupt.
“I called him and said, ‘Look, I don’t even have $1 million, but let’s talk,’” Otis said. “So we talked. Then I said, ‘I don’t even have a half million, but let’s talk.’ Finally the third time I said, ‘Look, if you will box it up and ship it to Zaoksky, I’ll give you $300,000 in cash.’ And he took it.
“That press is still working today,” said Otis, who served as Review and Herald president from 1978 to 1988 and later advised the General Conference on Soviet and Russian affairs.
Otis, now 76, still travels to Russia and gets together with Kharchev, who is 81. Last year they met at Zaoksky, located a two-hour drive south of Moscow, and recounted stories to university students on a Sabbath afternoon.
The Review and Herald’s contribution went far beyond the launch of Adventist publishing in Russia, said Artur A. Stele, a General Conference vice president who lived for many years in the former Soviet Union. How? It published a Russian-language journal shortly after Kharchev’s visit and, with his blessing, distributed it in the Soviet Union in 1987. The high-quality, colorful journal was called Vzaimoponimaniye (Mutual Understanding): A Look at Adventists in the U.S.S.R. and the U.S., and it introduced Adventism to the Soviet public. In 1988 the Review and Herald released a second issue of the journal, this time dedicated to families and children.
“The Review and Herald created a desire for high-quality publications already in 1987,” said Stele, who has worked closely with Adventist publishing in Russia for years, including as a former president of Zaoksky Theological Seminary and a former president of the Euro-Asia Division. “These two journals revolutionized the image of Adventists in the Soviet Union, paving the way for permission to be granted to open the publishing house at Zaoksky.”
While the Soviet visit might have generated headlines, that wasn’t the only time that Secret Service agents staked out the Review and Herald. The sharpshooters stood by again in the early 1990s during a visit by Ugandan Vice President Samson Kisekka, an Adventist.
“I was down there in advertising at the time,” Thomas said. “There were Secret Service guys behind me and the sniffer dogs again.”
Kisekka, a physician by training, made several trips to the U.S. in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and they resulted in the Review and Herald sending to Africa huge shipments of special issues of Message magazine themed around AIDS and drugs.
“At the time, these special issues had the highest print runs of any special issues in Review and Herald’s history and were targeted to address the AIDS crisis in the U.S. and on the continent of Africa,” said Delbert Baker, a General Conference vice president and former Message editor.
The Review and Herald also contributed its expertise in other countries, donating equipment and dispatching staff to start local operations. In one example, bindery foreman Keith Alexander flew to South America in 1989 to help install a book line for the Adventist publishing house in Guyana.
Howard Scoggins, who was the Euro-Asia Division publishing director from 1996 to 2000, said the Review and Herald proved a godsend during his time there.
“I needed manuscripts, I needed permissions, and I didn’t have any money,” Scoggins said. “I appealed to the Review and Herald, and I said, ‘Guys, I need these books. I’ll pay you a royalty, but please don’t charge me.’”
The Review and Herald waived numerous fees and helped in other ways, allowing Scoggins to move forward quickly.
Scoggins, who previously had worked in Adventist publishing in Africa and the Middle East, later joined the Review and Herald in Hagerstown, where he retired as vice president of marketing in early 2014.
He said his Russian experience taught him that the Review and Herald offers something special to the many Adventist publishing houses around the world that are short on manuscripts: confidence that they are holding high-quality content worth translating and republishing.
“When they see the logo, the little R, they know they can open the book and read with confidence,” he said.