My family and I immigrated from Ukraine to the US when I was seven years old. In the last 19 years I have changed from that little Ukrainian boy into a somewhat culturally confused American-Ukrainian. I have seen many of my peers undergo this process of assimilation. Some have very quickly become “Americanized,” while others are adapting more slowly. The different pace of change is natural and normal, neither good nor bad, and has been studied on many occasions. Churches of one ethnicity that are inside another nation/culture usually adapt and assimilate as well (1, 2, 3, 4). In fact, American history has been filled with ‘national’ churches, created by new native speaking immigrants from places like Norway, Germany, and Italy. Most of these churches have taken one of three routes. I strongly believe that Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarusian churches in America are doomed to repeat history and will also take the following route(s). There are three possible futures for Slavic Christians in America. My prediction is that each church will select their own route at their own pace, though some may attempt a combination multiple paths.
1. Stay culturally conformed and withdraw
While some people state all the Russian churches will become Americanized, this is not necessarily true. There can be strong cultural conformity when a body of people decide to keep their traditions. As an example we can look at the Amish (though no disrespect is meant to the Amish or the Slavics who follow such a path). American society has changed very quickly, but they have worked to maintain their tradition and culture through the change. Because of their decision to be isolated from culture, and the raising of children with those same values, they can exist as a sub-culture inside of a larger culture. Some Slavic Christians are staunchly conservative on issues of Slavic language, dress code, and tradition. Many are a part of large communities that hold to such a stance. I propose that a sizable portion of Slavics will continue to withdraw from American society. Some of these churches will decline and die out (following those churches from the earliest stages of Russian immigration to Canada). Others will maintain large and thriving (but isolated) churches. The fast pace of change in our modern society will fuel the isolationist spirit of such churches. As culture changes and becomes even more different, the Slavic’s in these churches will feel even more out of place, and it will push them to “stick together” with like-minded people.
2. Slowly adapt the Slavic church to remain relevant
I predict that this is the route that most Slavic churches will take, though the timing will be very different, at first. In the 19th and 20th century America had a large influx of European immigrants who immediately began forming local churches with their native culture and language. Some of these denominations and local churches exist today, though they are nowhere near the same as they were 150 years ago. One example is the ‘Norwegian Lutheran Church.’ This was a large denomination that was formed by a wave of Norwegian immigrants to the US from the 1860’s to the 1910’s. Yet the Norwegian language and traditions quickly declined in the 1920’s and soon thereafter English became the main language. I propose most Slavic Christians will remain in churches that don’t fully assimilate (at first) but remain as uniquely Slavic churches with many American customs. For a while most will be populated by children who are direct descendants of Russians and Ukrainians, with a few Americans. Though after a few generations, these churches will fully assimilate into the American culture, and speak of Russia or Ukraine the same way most Americans speak of Norway (“I’m American! Oh yea, I did have a great grandfather from Norway.”)
3. Assimilate into the American culture
The third, and least popular pathway is full assimilation. If history is repeated, I predict this will be slow at first, but after two or three generations will be the most popular route. Nearly all churches that were created by immigrants of the 19th and 20th century, whether German Lutherans, Dutch Presbyterians, Polish Catholics, or Swedish Baptists, have now fully assimilated into US culture. When I was younger, we looked at “Americans” as though they were a different race. Yet, the very people we called “Americans” are mostly descendants of European immigrants from a century or two ago. True “Americans” are those who are descendants of the Native tribes, everyone else is an immigrant. I predict that many Slavic immigrants will follow the path of earlier immigrants. As the older generation that doesn’t speak English begins to be replaced by those that have been born in the US, the major reason for having a Slavic church will slowly begin to dissipate. Currently I am not aware of any churches from the recent wave of immigration that have fully assimilated, though I know many Slavic Christians who have assimilated independently into an American church.