The Ferndale Fortitude (Vol. I No. 3, August 3, 2021)
In 1908, well-known writer, G.K. Chesterton, said, “If you leave a thing alone you leave it to a torrent of change. If you leave a white post alone it will soon be a black post.” (G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, Colorado Springs, CO.: WaterBrook Press, 1994. 171.) Ferndalers can perceive this truth with ease. Our butterfat palaces require regular attention if they are to retain their Victorian beauty and charm. Chesterton explains that “If you particularly want [the post] to be white you must be always painting it again; that is you must be always having a revolution… [I]f you want the old white post you must have a new white post.” (emphasis added)
Preservation, then, is the art of actively repelling, rebuffing, and refusing the torrent of change that lies in wait to displace what one wants to maintain. It is continually updating the old with the new in a way that replicates and perpetuates the old. If you don’t do this, something new will still take the place of the old. But be warned, it will look entirely different.
In 1975 our city was officially designated a State Historic Landmark by the California State Park Office of Historic Preservation.2 This designation distinguishes our community from others and highlights that our city is, to use Chesterton’s language, engaged in the revolutionary effort of preserving the old. Indeed, it is a joyful and unified cause that enlists all but a few who choose to take up residents in and around our cherished village.
Obviously, the truth Chesterton articulated reaches beyond fence posts and Victorian homes. It extends beyond the purview of our Design Review Committee, touching not only what falls in the Design Control Zone, but everything susceptible to rot and decay, all of creation, including human beings, physically, as well as spiritually.
Historic, orthodox Christian teaching informs us that God is unchanging, and His Word endures forever, unscathed by the torrent of change that would overtake it (Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8; Isaiah 40:8; Matthew 24:35). From this same unchanging Word, Christians learn of their sin and how to wage an ongoing revolution against it. We live baptismal lives of daily repentance, continually fighting against the evil that threatens to harden our softened hearts (Ezekiel 36:26). To leave our souls alone is to give them over to a depraved torrent of change (Romans 1:28).
Rightly understanding that without constant intervention, everything will rot and decay, even faith in Christ— and with it the culture of goodness, truth, and beauty that Christianity creates and sustains—is why the pioneers who settled our agricultural community brought Christianity with them and established Christian congregations and erected sanctuaries where they could gather regularly to hear God’s Word in their own languages and receive His Sacraments. They knew the alternative was untenable. Had the early settlers of Ferndale left their faith alone because they were too busy establishing their farms and businesses, raising their families, and forming our city, we would have nothing to preserve. Our forefathers knew that when you “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” life’s other concerns are also resolved (Matthew 6:33), but if you leave the kingdom of God alone, corruption will take its place within you and those around you. As 1 Timothy 4:16 says, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”
Do you know that old white picket fence so often associated with the American dream of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Well, it needs a fresh coat of paint. In Ferndale, we’ve done a great job preserving our historic buildings, but a torrent of change seeks to displace our culture. To fend off the mold, we must return to where the One beyond change has promised to meet us: in His Church (Matthew 18:20). There, we renew our brushes with the refreshing paint of His Word and Sacraments. There, the old truth is delivered anew. There, we’re equipped with the paint supply needed to protect our heritage from the unwanted rot and decay that seeks to make us and our town into something new and different.
Your servant in Christ,