A friend recently told me about the Fort Henry Club in Wheeling, West Virginia. Originally built as a private home in 1850, the building was turned into a private men’s club in 1890. Walking by as a boy, my friend would marvel at the impressive columns and grand marble steps.
The club had a reputation for elegance and propriety. Famous guests included Charles Lindbergh, Herbert Hoover, and Babe Ruth. Businessmen from across the country kept their memberships there. They didn’t just come for the networking; they came for a sense of stability; an experience of life as it used to be.
But then times changed. The club didn’t. The roof started leaking and the columns started crumbling. In 2011, the club declared bankruptcy and closed. But rather than see the building demolished, the church across the street bought the property, and later sold it to a developer, who began to restore it. Today three businesses lease space there.
Private clubs are just one of the things that help(ed?) us make sense of the world. Our friends, our jobs, our looks, and our families are also sources of our identity.
In his book, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, Rod Dreher describes the major changes in the global west over centuries. One of the sources of identity was religion. The root of the word “religion” is the Latin religare, meaning “to bind.” A shared understanding of religion used to bind people together and was a source of shared identity.
But then times changed. Over time, identity became an individual thing, something that you create.
Dreher suggests that the practices of a monastic community prescribed by the 6th century monk Benedict of Nursia can help everyone, not just monks, survive in a changing culture.
Kids grow up.
Friends move away.
Our favorite places go bankrupt.
Only Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and tomorrow.