Gordon Cosby, founder of Church of the Savior, a church which began in our DC neighborhood in the 1940s, passed away yesterday morning.
Four years ago, just before I moved to DC, Church of the Savior was featured in a Washington Post article as its time as a church came to a close–”Activist D.C. Church Embraces Transition in Name of Its Mission.” Over its sixty years of existence, though it never grew to more than 200 people, the church had an amazing way of birthing communities of people that cared about their neighborhood: Christ House, Jubilee Housing, Jubilee Jobs, Potter’s House, Christ House, Mary’s Center, Samaritan Inns, to name just a few of the dozens of ministries that were created to see more of the kingdom of God in the neighborhoods of Adams Morgan, Mount Pleasant, Columbia Heights, and beyond.
Jim Wallis, my old boss at Sojourners, once described the Church of the Savior as having had ”more influence around the country than any other church I know about.” Without Gordon and Mary Cosby’s commitment to Christ and to our neighborhood in decades past–long before it was a safe or popular place to be–Jim and Sojourners would not be who they are, our neighborhood wouldn’t be what it is, and neither The District Church nor I would be who we are.
I had a chance to meet and pray with Gordon last year (with Aaron). It was amazing–and amazingly humbling–to be in the presence of such a good and faithful servant, and I’m grateful that I got the opportunity to spend some time with him.
Thank you, Gordon, for your life and your faith; I walk in the path you carved and I follow in the footsteps you’ve left. Rest in peace.
Others have also written (far-more-eloquent) tributes to him, including:
As many of you know, the vision for The District Church is to be a network of neighborhood churches. We want to be “a church for the city” (as our tagline says), but that can only happen as we build relationships and make an impact on the ground, neighborhood by neighborhood.
More specifically, you may already know that we’re looking to plant a new campus in 2013, and as we’ve looked at where God has called us, it seems the most logical and likely location is the H Street Corridor/Atlas District in northeast DC.
God has been building community there–three new small groups started there this fall, and we have at least forty people living in and around that area, including a number of fantastic leaders.
But all of these leaders are volunteer leaders, so we’ve been praying for someone who can:
devote the time and energy necessary to lead a new community,
think and strategize with creativity and vision, and
cultivate the new relationships that will arise.
So I’m asking you to join us as a church as we pray that God would continue to lead us and that we would continue to be submitted to his plans and his timing.
With the Republican and Democratic National Conventions having taken place over the last two weeks, we can officially say that we’re entering into election season (i.e. that time when the general public begins to pay attention).
A couple friends who pastor churches in non-DC parts of the country asked me if we feel the need to address politics at The District Church, being in the very belly of the beast (my words, not theirs). Specifically, they were asking–given the intense polarization and often-unproductive arguing that we see around us, even in the church–about the need to address how we interact with those who disagree with us.
So far, we haven’t needed to. In our church community, we have Republicans, Democrats, independents, and yes, even people who don’t care about politics; we have Hill staffers, White House staffers, activists, advocates, lobbyists, policy wonks, and more–and we’ve all come together as the body of Christ, recognizing that our allegiance is first to Jesus before any party or even country.
Even so, every four years (or every two, if you pay attention to mid-terms; or all the time, if you’re even more politically engaged), posts about politics pop up with increasing frequency on social media, eliciting often-furious back-and-forths that usually end up doing nothing more than reminding each side how right they are and how stupid the other side is.
So I figured I’d try to offer a few suggestions on how we can engage with one another on matters of politics in healthy ways.
1. Offer Grace.
As Christians, we believe that–as Brennan Manning, Dorothy Day, and numerous others have put it–all is grace. Just as God has been gracious to us in giving us so much more than we deserve, so we are also called to extend that grace to others: don’t presume that just because someone disagrees with you, they’re somehow less clever or less informed; don’t assume that just because someone’s faith doesn’t work itself out the same way as yours, they must therefore not be a Christian. God’s grace is big enough to meet all of us where we are and move us on a journey toward him–that should always be the foundation on which we build.
2. Be Humble.
With grace comes humility–the understanding that there is a God and it is not us, the recognition that there is far more that we do not know than that we do, the attitude of not thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought (Romans 12:3) but of thinking of others as better than us (Philippians 2:3). When we recognize that grace is a gift from God and that the God we serve is far bigger than any disagreements we might have–or even the greatest challenges we might face as a nation and as a world–we are free to work as hard as we can, speak as passionately as we can, and do as much as we can, to change the world for the better, all the while remembering that it does not all depend on us, and that God brings good out of even the most awful things. And so we may walk humbly with our God and interact humbly with one another.
3. Be Civil.
Rich Mouw (president of Fuller Theological Seminary) has written a tremendous book called Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World (that was republished recently), and last year did an interview with NPR about “Restoring Political Civility.” He talks often about the need for civility in discourse even as we maintain our convictions–to paraphrase: believing something strongly doesn’t mean you need to be a jerk about it, nor does getting along with people mean you have to check your beliefs at the door to find the lowest common denominator.
Grace and humility necessitate civility.
4. Work with Facts.
Jon Huntsman, Jr. (one of the Republican presidential candidates this year) said in a recent interview that one of the problems is that everyone appears to have their own facts, which means we’re not even starting from the same point!
Sadly, we live in a time when we can’t just take politicians at their word–there’s just too much spin (and even outright lying). So starting with the facts is always a good thing to do. Factcheck.org and Politifact are two non-partisan groups that do a great job running political claims and statements through the Truth-o-Meter.
Also, Ezra Klein of the Washington Post has a very helpful blog–“Wonkblog”–that keeps me up-to-date with summaries of the latest goings-on.
5. Read and (Carefully) Apply Scripture.
Of course, facts aren’t the whole picture and focusing on individual facets of policy–even if they’re true–can sometimes obscure the larger picture; and we must always view everything through the lens of Scripture and the larger narrative of God.
Just this morning, I was reading Jeremiah 22 and was reminded of the standard to which God called the kings of Judah (and, by implication and extrapolation, any political leader):
Act with justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor anyone who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the immigrant, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place. (v.3)
Are you a king because you compete in cedar? Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well. Is not this to know me? says the Lord. (vv.15-16)
According to this standard, neither of the standard-bearers for the major parties matches up particularly well. The middle class has gotten a lot of attention, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, since the size and health of the middle class is one gauge of the health of our society.
But a better measure is the welfare of the those who have the least. Scripture is full of references to the poor, and how God is particularly concerned with their plight; for instance, “Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God” (Prov. 14:31).
This is the standard to which we should be calling our leaders: doing justice and righteousness; protecting the oppressed, marginalized and vulnerable; and upholding the cause of the poor and needy–those whom Jesus referred to in Matthew 25 as “the least of these.”
[Brief aside: check out "The Line," a new documentary from Sojourners, World Vision, Bread for the World, Oxfam America, and the Christian Community Development Association, that highlights this very issue. Trailer below.]
6. Be Prayerful
Ultimately, it comes back to God. As the people of God, it has to.
Prayer is not simply a way for us to petition God on the things we’d like to see happen, or to try to get God on our side: “Please let (insert presidential candidate) win!” or “Please keep (insert presidential candidate) from winning!”
It is also, and more importantly, the place where we come to meet with God, and to have our thoughts, our desires, and our wills, transformed by God to be more in line with who he is and what he desires–and reading and understanding Scripture is a good step toward being able to discern those things. Prayer is where we are changed, first–before that person with whom we’re disagreeing, before the policies and structures of our country, before the ossified injustices of our world. Prayer is where we grow our roots in God in order that we may bear fruit in the world.
In prayer, we are likely to be challenged to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God; to lower the accusing finger, to replace the vitriolic Facebook post with a civil one, to refrain from posting that oh-so-funny-but-not-particularly-gracious tweet; to truly love our enemies–that is, any who are opposed to us–and to seek their good.
I wonder if we could truly make this “the most important election of our lifetime,” as so many are wont to say, by showing the world that, as Christians, we are beholden not to a certain political ideology or party, nor to a particular economic or social philosophy, but that we are sons and daughters of the Most High God, who live out our faith with the love and graciousness and conviction and humility that are characteristic of our family.
That would be pretty awesome.
[Photo credits: Romney & Obama, Joe Raedle & Olivier Douliery / Getty Images; Richard Mouw, Fuller Theological Seminary website]
In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been so humbled and encouraged by the ways that God has stepped up and provided, through many of you. On several fronts, I’ve been reminded that God is faithful and does answer prayer:
In the last two weeks, in response to the email ask I sent out, almost twenty people have given or pledged to give, which essentially doubled the number of people who are financially supporting me!
This last Sunday, the church’s Executive Team met and decided to increase their financial support for me. We’re still working on details, but this is exciting for me and encouraging as it means that our church community continues to grow–not just in size, but in generosity as well.
And last, but certainly not least, the church was given a house in the Columbia Heights neighborhood by an anonymous donor! I just posted Aaron’s account, and I’m pretty sure you’ll want to read it–it has more details, for one thing.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we’ve just started a series at The District Church on prayer–we planned it before I even knew I’d be sending out an ask for support, and definitely before we got the house! But God has been stirring my spirit from the relief and exhaustion that I was feeling in the aftermath of the last few crazy months, to a renewed excitement and anticipation for what he continues to do in, through, and around The District Church.
If you were at The District Church last Sunday, you’ll already know this; but if you weren’t, here’s an email update that Aaron (lead pastor of The District Church) sent out earlier this week with the good news:
It was two years ago that we began meeting and praying in our home as we were in the process of starting the church. We wrote down the vision we believed God gave to us, “To be a multiplying network of neighborhood churches that exists for Christ and the renewal of our city.”
We believed that God called us to this city for a purpose. To build roots and seek the peace of the city in a way that lifts up the name of Christ. We knew that we wanted it to start in Columbia Heights but not end here. We knew that cities don’t change at once but rather one neighborhood at a time.
We began to dream: what if we were able to plant a church and start an urban ministry in every neighborhood throughout the city? We could have the strength of a large church but the flexibility and community of a small church. As we began to pursue this and ask ourselves what would it take to begin to make steps toward this huge vision, it all came down to one thing; leadership. Everything rises and falls on the quality of leadership.
We began casting a vision for a Leadership Residency program that would help train people who are called to plant a church or start an urban ministry. It would not an internship, which is only meant to gain experience in a field, but rather like a medical residency. We thought if the medical profession requires 3+ years of a residency to work on bodies than we should at least require a year residency to train people to work on souls!
Justin Fung was our first leadership resident and he was ordained in November, and is now serving as Associate Pastor here. Blythe Scott is our second leadership resident and is focused on the urban ministry component.
Leadership Residents are asked to raise their own support. It’s a way to test one’s calling; much like ours has been tested over the years! But we as the church have wanted to do our part as well. Since housing is the most expensive part of everyone’s budget in this city (it was over 50% of our budget when we moved here), we began to dream about being able to provide housing for leadership residents.
So we began praying that God would literally give us a house. This was a bold prayer to pray at the beginning as a house church of 20 people in the midst of a high priced housing market during an economic downturn, but we prayed. Deep down I was thinking that this would be 5-10 years down the road.
Well, I’m excited to share that God has provided! We have a house!
An anonymous donor loaned us the money to purchase the house and retain it for at least the next five years!
It will be used for some meetings and hospitality space for some church gatherings, but the main goal is to make sure we are providing a good pipeline of leaders for the vision God is birthing in our community to make disciples and truly be a church for the city.
The house is just a block south of where we live, and very close to many others in the church.
It gets me fired up to share this because I am reminded that our God is on the move! Our leadership community and several small groups have been praying for this. It is such an affirmation from God about the calling we have as a church.
This city is full of people with good ideas. Lots of people that move here have good intentions to make a difference in our city and world. But we are not just looking for good ideas, we are looking for people who are called and have a burden.
By purchasing this house we are saying to ourselves as a church that we value leadership at our very core. That making disciples who make disciples is the very essence of our mission.
I can’t wait to have you visit the house, but more importantly experience what God is doing here.
If you have some candidates for our leadership residency who are called to ministry in the city, send them our way!