I just learned about Gordon Cosby who was a prolific and catalytic Southern Baptist pastor in D.C. During the days of segregation in America Cosby's ministry advanced interracial Sundays in D.C. - a practice which would arguably shape the vocations of so many pastors, more than any other figure in his generation (NPR). Cosby is not very famous but this amazing national tribute to his lasting endeavors provides for some really good legacy meditation. I sure hope some of these characteristics can be ascribed of me at my funeral.
“World War to Spiritual War”
After he graduated from seminary, the country was entering the war, so Cosby enlisted as a chaplain. Cosby was part of the invasion of Normandy on D-Day. He helped pull wounded soldiers to safety and ministered to the dying. For his service he earned a Silver Star for bravery.
"At Normandy, he buried hundreds of young men, including his best friend," says Wes Granberg-Michaelson, who knew Cosby for 45 years.
"As he dealt with young men who were facing death, he realized how poorly equipped they were to deal with the questions of life and death and how poor their faith had prepared them," Granberg-Michaelson says. "And it was that experience that convinced him to — if he survived the war — come back to the states and he would start a church that would have the ability to form faith deeply."
After his return in 1946, he did just that. The Church of the Saviour was one of the first places of interracial worship in the city. One of the tenets of membership in the church was a commitment to service in the community. Members were required to work with the homeless at shelters and at the church-run hospice and medical clinic.
“Could have been Famous but the Church was Most Important”
As his reputation grew, Cosby got invitations to speak from all across the country. He turned them all down; Cosby wanted his church to remain small. "What Gordon understood is that the model of church that he was setting forth — it wasn't going to survive if the church simply got larger and larger and larger," Granberg-Michaelson says. Gordon Cosby never needed or wanted to be out front or become a famous public figure. He could have spoken across the country, and was often invited to do so. But he instead decided that his own vocation was to stay with a relatively small group of people trying to "be the church" in Washington, D.C.: the Church of the Savior, which has produced more missions and ministries, especially with the poor, than any church I know of anywhere in the country -- even the huge mega-churches who capture all the fame. He never wrote a book, went on television, talked to presidents, planted more churches, built national movements, or traveled around the world. He just inspired everybody else to do all those things and much more. And the world came to him.
“How to live the Gospel and Love like Christ”
“Gordon Cosby taught us how to live by the Gospel and, in these last years and months, he also showed us how to die,” says Jim Wallis. In one of my many visits near the end of his life, Gordon said to me in his deep graveling voice, "I am enjoying dying." What a Gospel thing to say. From the first time I heard Gordon preach, to the last sermon he did a few years ago, I have never heard the Gospel and its meaning more clearly articulated than from Gordon Cosby. As one person said last night, "You knew he loved like Christ, and he made you want to love like Christ too."
“Holy Unrest: Thriving After Death”
Brian McLaren, an author and former evangelical pastor, says that while many evangelical churches don't often survive the death of their founders, Cosby's work is a living testament. "The deeper and broader legacy will be his indirect legacy on the people who were captivated by his holy unrest," McLaren says. "That he just could never be satisfied that the church was fulfilling its potential and that the Christian faith was fulfilling its potential."
1. Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jim-wallis/gordon-cosby-teaching-us_b_2925125.html?utm_hp_ref=religion
2. NPR: http://www.npr.org/2013/04/14/177218091/pastor-mentor-and-social-activist-remembering-gordon-cosby