The Church of the Savior

The Church of the Savior:
Gordon Cosby, Fred Taylor, & the Rescue of Children

Marjory Bankson wrote a compelling history of a small and innovative ministry that began in 1946 in Washington D. C. Engaging its community for almost eighty years, it is still strongly rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and bears fruit in the people He came to redeem.

On Sunday, 5 October 1946, Gordon and Mary Cosby met with seven others to begin Church of the Savior (CoS) as "a local expression of the universal church" in Washington, D. C. From the beginning, Gordon held up Jesus' promise that "where two or three gather in my name, I will be with them" as the call for shared ministry. He believed small groups of six or eight people would be dedicated to a particular piece of Christ's healing work in the world. Mission groups of that size later became the primary place of belonging and decision-making in Church of the Savior (CoS).

The principles then, and now, are the same:
1) that the service of God requires total commitment; and that power demands discipline;
2) that the gift of the Holy Spirit depends upon the existence of a true fellowship; and that such fellowship is best found in a small group dedicated to Christ's work in the world.
At first, operating out of an old rooming house at 1707 19th Street, NW, in Washington D. C., the church began ministering to the community. In 1960, the church bought a headquarters, a gracious brownstone located at 2025 Massachusetts Avenue, pictured above, which is still in use today. Gordon wanted to build an ecumenical community of Christians who would truly love the world in all of its brokenness—as God did. He looked for people who had been called by God to a deeper form of discipleship, not those with "good prospects" or worldly credentials. He nurtured community where he found two or three who could support each other and care about those around them. 
At first, groups formed for Sunday School and worship services on Sundays, and at the School for Lay Ministry in the evenings. In a brochure dated September, 1957, the purpose of the School was described this way:

"It is often said that the Church must leave the churches and go into the market place and workshop, there to hear witness to the power of Christ to bring meaning into life. But the fact is, the church is already in these places. How? In the persons of its laity. It is the lay-men and-women who are fighting the real battles of faith in factories, shops, offices and farms, in political parties and government agencies, in countless homes, in the press, radio and television, and in the relationships of nations. If the laypersons do not bear witness to the faith in these places, then there will be no witness."
Education in the CoS School for Lay Ministry (now School of Christian Living) was a key element of preparing all members for ministry, borne out of Gordon's deep trust in the power of God to call people to a deeper life in Christ. He believed that every person had a ministry, but would need help to identify it and claim it wholeheartedly. Preparing lay people for ministry in their places of daily work began, as Bonhoeffer counseled, with listening, not with traditional evangelism. At the School, people practiced listening prayerfully to each other as they earnestly sought the depth of community which Jesus taught his disciples. Courses in Old and New Testament, Christian growth, ethics and doctrine were offered on a regular rotation. Membership in Church of the Savior took at least two years of preparation at the school, then working with a sponsor until one felt ready to make a commitment "to give [Christ] a practical priority in all the affairs of life." The School was rigorous, requiring attention and hard work, much like a fine seminary.
Dreams for a retreat center took shape about the same time, and was realized when Dayspring was purchased, a 200-acre farm near Gaithersburg, Maryland. Here, members of all of the ministries, most of them volunteers, could go on day-long retreats to find respite, draw near to God, and listen to Him. Dayspring anchored the inward journey for CoS members, just as the School of Lay Ministry prepared them for the outward journey of healing in a broken world.
Soon, the church sensed a call from God to open Potter's House, a coffee house and bookstore on Columbia Road, each night staffed by a separate mission group. They tried to implement Gordon's vision of the "Four Dimensions of Being Church:" confession, witness, nurture and collective action. New energy was released by sharing a common task and soon other mission groups were born. The Retreat Mission Group formed at Dayspring to sponsor silent retreats at the farmhouse there, and another formed to take responsibility for adult education as "Shepherds" for the School of Christian Living. An arts workshop developed out of Potter's House. Another mission became a house church in Rockville, MD, and still another group was establishing outreach in a depressed area of the city. 
A new ministry, For Love of Children (FLOC) was born as well. Fred Taylor, a Baptist minister, born in Kentucky and educated at Yale, was called to join the Church of the Savior, and was heartbroken by a horrific need in Washington D. C. Countless children, mostly African Americans, were abandoned, homeless, or untended. Junior Village was an orphanage that housed almost 1,000 unwanted or neglected children in deplorably crowded conditions. Abuse was rampant. In March of 1965, Gordon traveled to Selma, Alabama, to march with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. On that trip, he and Fred agreed, with five other ministers, to do something about Junior Village. Taylor began by asking Christian churches each to support a handful of children in foster homes. Eventually, the good work of FLOC closed down Junior Village, an experiment that intersected racism, classism, and political power, and won awards from the City of Washington.
For this Church, the call to social justice is an essential part of Christian spiritual formation, and cannot be isolated from the journey toward wholeness. There was no theological axe to grind, and no denomination to please. There was need. There was a call. There were the various gifts that individuals brought to the call of the group. It was a non-coercive, non-guilt-producing message. And people who had not attended church in years found the combination of spirituality, small group life, and social change ministry appealing.

This month, The Center celebrates the breathtaking, creative, and redemptive work of God's Spirit in the lives of those who hear Him and follow. When the Church is the Church in community, civility and love can transform cities.
-Karen O'Dell Bullock
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