Fort Steele: Alive, but Dead

Fort Steele
Fort Steele Cottage

The town has only one problem. It’s dead.

Every day its streets bustle with activity, but as the sun sets the tinker lays down his tools, the blacksmith’s forge goes cold, Miss Bailey balances her bell and pointer and dunce cap on the stool in the corner. The Northwest Mounted Police recruit drops his British accent and hangs his red serge on the costume rack. The inhabitants of Fort Steele leave via the employees exit to the parking lot and carpool home to the next town, because no one actually inhabits in this one.

It’s dead.


Tinsmith Shop Window, fort Steele
Tinsmith Shop Window, Fort Steele


When pioneers built the livery and school and churches and hotel and shops Fort Steele glistened with the promise of wealth. Since gold had been discovered in the nearby Wildhorse Creek all sorts of adventurous trail-blazing men streamed in, and after a tense situation with the first dwellers in the area was settled without violence, the abundant beauty and riches of the valley convinced them to invite their wives and children to join them.

The town of Fort Steele, named in honour of Superintendent Sam Steele of the Northwest Mounted Police who settled the uprising, basked in potential. Second sons and peasant entrepreneurs who left Europe behind prospered. But prosperity has a way of being usurped and the man who represented the town’s interests in parliament, retired British army officer Colonel Baker, had a way of also representing his own interests. The promised railway changed course. The station was built on Colonel Baker’s property instead, too far away to serve a town in horse and buggy days. Eventually people started moving to be closer to the railroad life-line. Eventually shopkeepers and trades people followed.

The result was an abandoned ghost town turned living history museum fifty years later.

Fort Steele after the tourists go home
Fort Steele after the tourists go home

When we first moved to this area, when our children were young, we often visited the town. We warned the kids not to barge into the house in the photo at the top because someone still lived there. Now no one lives there.

This week I was reading in the book of Revelation about the church of Sardis.

“To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. “

This reminded me of Fort Steele and the fun events we attend there, going to marvelous concerts in the old theatre, sharing potlucks around a pot-bellied stove in the NWMP barracks in the deep cold of winter, attending weddings seated around the huge gazebo in the hot summer sun, celebrating Thanksgiving in the garden produce-bedecked Presbyterian Church followed by a groaning table feast in the hotel. The place is full of activity –but no one lives there. It’s all an act.

No one is born there, or moves there, or grows up there, or grows old there.

This is the rest of the message to the church at Sardis: Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.

Fort Steele Presbyterian Church
Fort Steele Presbyterian Church

I wonder if it isn’t easier, when we are in churches that have become monuments to past moves of God, churches whose congregations are dwindling, to either practise willful blindness toward creeping death or abandon them to follow the newest thing. The church in Sardis was not given either option. They were not told to pick up and move to Philadelphia where the church was living love. They were told to wake up, strengthen what remained, hold fast, turn from deadly thinking and change. A remnant –an uncompromised scrap of the fabric that once made up this church remained to help them.

Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy.  The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels.

When folks in the big C church at large choose to pronounce death before the Lord does (and He does do this when a group is so far gone it becomes toxic) they could be cutting off those few who still walk in victory, who faithfully live worthy of their callings right where they are, without denying the seriousness of conditions of those around them. They are beacons of hope, worthy of our prayers and support. Revival is about breathing life into that which once was thriving, but is now dying.

God is still able to revive and restore. Our part is to let go of our reputations and change our ways to match His.  Jesus knows all about resurrection.

Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (Revelation 3:6)