It was a soft landing mainly coming back from Dublin over the weekend. Encountering a Buffalo Wild Wings store — how could you possibly call that a restaurant — was certainly a reminder of how bizarre American culture must look even to other Westerners. Comparing a BWW to O’Neill’s pub in Dublin may not be fair. But I am not sure why one room needs what seemed like 67 television screens. Back in Dublin, not even all the screens were on even if a soccer match was available. And some patrons came to the pub to talk about the choral concert they had heard at the University, others were playing a friendly game of cards, and young men predictably were picking up girls (while also unexpectedly explaining Ireland’s strict divorce laws). Having the Fighting Irish on against U.S.C. did not make up for the difference.
The Mrs. and I spent the night in Illinois (having flown to and from O’Hare) and so worshiped yesterday at an area Orthodox Presbyterian congregation before driving back to Hillsdale. We were greeted by the invocation of a minister whose roots, according to accent, were in Scotland. I know that Ireland and Scotland represent distinct forms of resisting England, with Northern Ireland throwing an odd wrench into such patterns of resistance. But the Scottish accent was a pleasant echo of our previous Sunday’s worship in Belfast among the Evangelical Presbyterians. Helping the transition was singing the eighth-century Irish hymn, “Be Thou My Vision.” Since only two days before we had seen a round tower at Glendalough, the site of remains from a seventh-century monastery founded by St. Kevin, the line, “Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight; Thou my soul’s Shelter, Thou my high Tower,” took on added significance.
One of the arresting aspects of Orthodox Presbyterian life is that we are ethnically a denomination of mongrels. Of course, the dominant ethnicity in the OPC is the one that comes to most immigrants after they have lived in the U.S. for generations. At the same time, since hyphenated Americans like John Murray and Cornelius Van Til were so crucial to the first thirty years of the OPC’s history, the denomination has always made room for European expressions of Reformed Protestantism in ways unusual among other American Presbyterian communions. This was particularly true of the OPC congregation where we worshiped yesterday. In addition to having a minister of recent Scottish origin, the session was composed of men all with Dutch names. Rare would be the mingling of Scottish or Scotch-Irish and Dutch Reformed constituencies in Ireland and Scotland. In the United States, it is at least possible if not common. Not to be missed is what the tensions among the various Reformed groups look like in North America. My sense is that the Dutch compete for dominance in ways unimaginable to the Scots and Ulster Presbyterians. Is that a function of ethnicity? Or is it the result of an intellectual tick in Kuyperianism compared to a tiredness among proponents of covenanting or the establishment principle?
The presence of pastors in American Presbyterian circles from Scotland and Northern Ireland does raise an important question about the United States’ relative hegemony in world affairs, not just politically but also ecclesiastically. Because this nation is one of the most powerful and wealthiest in the world, its congregations, even in sideline denominations like the OPC, can afford to pay pastors more than congregations can in Ireland and the United Kingdom. Carl Trueman sometime ago discussed the significance of a British invasion among Reformed and Presbyterian churches in the U.S. What I worry about is the brain drain from other parts of the world. Of course, American communions should not refuse to call men from other nations — that would be remarkably provincial and prevent Christians in the United States from benefiting from insights from other groups of believers. At the same time, American openness to internationals can be naive to the toll that the transfer of gifted pastors from other nations has on the exporting churches. Americans may benefit from gifted Brits, but what benefit to the British churches receive from losing their leading pastors?
For that reason, I propose that every time a congregation in the United States calls a pastor from another country, that congregation (and possibly presbytery or classis) also send back some form of subsidy to the communion that lost its minister to the United States. Monetary assistance would be one form that this subsidy could take. If denominations in the United States were willing to assist foreign denominations financially, perhaps some gifted ministers would remain in their native lands. But U.S. Reformed and Presbyterians might also consider sending to other Reformed communions (and picking up the tab) young ministers who for a short tenure of two or three years would help to plant other congregations or assist busy ministers in established works.
These are a couple of thoughts off the top of a jet-lagged head that may need more clarity. Whatever these ideas’ merits, Christians in the United States should consider the balance of trade within international Calvinism as much as they worry about their nation’s trade deficit.