It was in late 2008 or early 2009, I can’t remember which, that I first found myself staring with some confusion at a church directory containing a truly ridiculous number of entries under V and Z. Also, there were no Toews. Nor Thiessens. Nor Klassens, Peters, nor Enns (not even Ens!). For a guy who grew up surrounded by Mennonites in an evangelical church in Saskatoon, the utter lack of Enns was frankly disturbing. But what the directory lacked in Enns and Thiessens it more than made up for with Van Xs and De Ys. I was attending a new church, a Presbyterian church filled with the Dutch.*
When attending in person it was not simply the names that were astounding, it was the dizzying tallness that truly set one reeling. I’m not tall, I know that, but I’ve always felt about average until I came into contact with the Dutch. It’s an odd sensation to stand, as a grown man, at shoulder height to another person. It is truly humbling to stand at shoulder height to an entire room of other people.
But then we worshiped together, and talked, and ate together, and I loved them.
It was there that I encountered Christians who have been deeply shaped by a stream of Protestant theology that I did not know well; Kuyperian Calvinism. Now, I was no true Calvinist, nor am I now. But these infinitely tall Kuyper fans taught me gently about a kind of cultural engagement that I had, until then, denigrated. They taught me about a love for culture. They taught me about a grace-filled engagement with art, and politics, and food. They spoke a language that struck deeply resonant notes in the depths of my heart. The tension between life as a Christian and life in the culture to which I have been born and in which I was raised has always been difficult for me. I had reached, by the time we moved to Hamilton, a kind of uneasy truce with my culture, but nothing more. It was the Dutch who taught me better.
I saw people who truly believed that their work, whatever that happened to be, had a redemptive purpose grounded in the work of Christ. It brought a great dignity to all work, from teaching to framing to lawyering to sculpting. It all, somehow, became art. It wasn’t just the pastors or missionaries who talked about vocation, it was everybody.
Don’t get me wrong, I still think postmillenial theology is kind of a wild pipe-dream, and I don’t think anybody will ever talk me into being a real Calvinist (though they came surprisingly close on child baptism a couple of times). But life among the Dutch was a powerful and beautiful thing. It altered Jinny and I in subtle but powerful ways, and I’m deeply thankful for that short sojourn.
*Okay, they weren’t all actually Dutch, but there were a lot of Dutch people man! Like, a lot!