Chapter 2: Therefore, My Sisters, My Brothers

From the day The Church of The Saviour came into existence it has been changing and evolving. In the spring of 1976, we found ourselves engaged in the living of a new Easter. Each day had put before our eyes sights to disturb our sleep and inform our days.

Paulo Friere, who has been a spiritual guide for so many, wrote:The process of conscientization leaves no one with his arms folded. It makes some unfold their arms. it leaves others with a guilt feeling, because conscientization shows us that God wants us to act. As I conscientize myself, I realize that my brothers who don’t eat, who don’t laugh, who don’t sing, who don’t love, who live oppressed, crushed, and despised, who are less each day, are suffering all this because of some reality that is causing it. And at that point I join in the action historically by genuinely loving, by having the courage to commit myself (which is no easy thing!) or I end up with a sense of guilt because I know I am not doing what I know I should… I can’t live my peace without commitment to men, and my commitment to men can’t exist without their liberation, and their liberation can’t exist without final transformation of the structures that are dehumanizing them. There is only one way for me to find peace: to work for it, shoulder to shoulder with my fellow men.* When the seventh year-the year with the sacred number that has come to symbolize wholeness-came around once again in our own congregation, Gordon Cosby, founder, leader, spiritual father, and brother for The Church of The Saviour community since its founding, made a statement to the Council that was to involve us in a radically new structuring of our life. His words came at the close of a long meeting: 

*The Ladoc ‘Keyhole” Series, #I, P-9

I have just time to raise a few questions concerning my own sense of call, which is intimately related to the whole community. I have come to the place where it is not possible to carry out responsibly what I have traditionally been doing and also to help create new structures that have to do with people at the point of oppression. Ever since I can remember I have felt this as a claim on my life, a claim that has deepened with every new mission.

With each step the community has taken it has grown in numbers. When it averaged between 60 and 70 members we went through a time of redefining our corporate life. Now we have 110 members and 40 intern members, and much more demanding structures, many of which have themselves become centers of life.

As the membership has grown and the missions have expanded the time demand on us all has increased. The questions raised with me are: “What is the reasonable size? When does a community become so large that it cannot operate on the basis of human dimensions? How big should administrative units be?” We must look at the issue of whether as a totality we are larger than we should be. Do we want to go the traditional way of pulling in more staff? I have these questions as a pastor. My guess is that Bill Branner as treasurer has them in the financial area.

Can we keep on stretching without affecting the quality of work to which we are called?

I do not feet that it is right for me to take time from new structures that we are just beginning to develop. Have I a right to withdraw energy from these to pastor the whole, and do any of us have this right? Or can we discover ways together to move into the future without losing our richness or diversity? Is it possible that we can divide into different combinations cohering around different worship centers and, in the process of creating the new, not lose that which we value? There arc many, many people in the life of this community with rare gifts of leadership that are not being used. Is it possible that we can have The Church of The Saviour at Massachusetts Avenue with its council, worship, and mission groups cohering around it; another on Columbia Road, cohering around The Potter’s House; another around Dayspring? Or is that not the way to go? Should some leave and just go out while the main body remains intact? I think we have to raise all these questions-bring them into full consciousness. Otherwise we grow larger and larger and struggle to hold it all together and what happens, happens by default.

I am sensing an inability to be faithful to my call and also faithful to the structures that we now have. I am recognizing a developmental stage which can be exciting, if we do not decide to hang on-if we can look at it together. It will be difficult because there is the difficult question, “What is my place in it?” But we can work with it, struggle with it, and trust that the same Spirit which brought us to this point will still be around. We as an organization have been so blessed, and my guess is that leadership may be developed at an even deeper level than we have known it.

I am not saying that I have any time schedule, or that I have a master plan, and know how to do it. I am saying that if we ask for the Holy Spirit, pray about it and talk about it, we may discover what is next for us, and that it could be a tremendously exciting and helpful time in our life.

That brief statement was to alter the life of The Church of The Saviour as had no other event in its history. Others were also sensing that change was needed. The small mission groups had flourished. The membership had grown to 120 in number, but that was deceptively small. Each of the groups had intem members and in addition a large periphery of people who gathered around them. The housing group had bought two slum apartment houses. These had literally become their parishes. Other groups were equally involved in ministry. We had the distinct feeling of having grown too large and of being flung out in too many places. Communication was breaking down. Some had suggested adding more staff to try to keep it all together, but that never felt quite right.

When Gordon made his statement it fell on hard as well as churned-up soil. There was no time for discussion at that council meeting, but in the days to come it became abundantly clear that we were moving into the eye of a major transition crisis. The conversation centered around “splitting up” and “dividing.” Though we strove for a more positive expression of the issues we were confronting, these words were often injected into the conversation and best described what many of us were feeling. If some felt a kind of terrible and hidden threat, others were stimulated by the proposal and found it full of exciting possibilities. A few bold ones began to respond to the challenge by wondering about themselves in places of leadership. While some imaginatively tried out new roles, others grew angry; still others, depressed, gave the matter no attention at all as though it would go away if properly ignored. One of our activists said, “Why don’t we just do our grief work and get on with it?” The reply was that grief has its stages, and denial and anger are in its cycle.

Were size and complexity the basis of our problems, or might they be merely contributing factors? Some felt that, as the groups had developed an autonomous life, we had failed to be in dialogue with each other, failed to wait for one another, failed to keep our covenant of prayer. They argued that repentance should precede a change in structures. Mixed with feelings of joy and adventure were feelings of betrayal and hurt. In the early days of our deliberations a few even felt that they had given their lives to build a community the nature of which they had not fully understood. Family of faith, unlimited liability, brothers and sisters, life together, bearing one another’s burdens, the unity of the Body, one part not held in more esteem than the other-these were all concepts that had nurtured and sustained our lives and given to us a sense of safety that had issued iii creativity, love of change, and zest for risk-taking. Those qualities had flourished in us, enabling us to embrace all kinds of holy insecurity. Having believed in the permanency of a particular community, we found it dreadfully painful to learn that this community was without a permanent home-literally a people in search of a city that was to come.*

*Heb. 13:14, NEB.

One father recounted the response of his children. His son complained, “Why haven’t you asked the children? We talked about it in my mission group and we don’t want to change.” His little girl’s question was, “Daddy, who will get Gordon?”

The struggle of the children reflected that of older, wiser souls. Perhaps because this new Exodus awakened old fears of abandonment, we were not as sure that the call to build a world of justice and caring should be taken with so much seriousness. It was one thing to talk about these things and quite another to pass over ourselves from one way of life to another.

Freud had said woe to the person who tries to replace the charismatic leader. What about this leader of ours who was trying to replace or displace himself. How did we deal with all the wild clamoring that had been set in motion thin and around us? What did we, who were no longer children, do with feelings of dependency that lingered on, the need and quest for a spiritual father and mother that every soul harbors? Night and day there had walked in our midst a man who had no limits around his giving, whose outpouring of life and spirit had energized our own lives and illuminated ordinary events. Who would do this for us now? Could we do it for ourselves? Would we give up our own missions and calls and set off for the ghetto after the loved leader, or could we tap some inner strength to choose our own way, claim our own very different paths? How much of the courage and faith that we thought was ours really belonged to him?

We did not always know when we were defending what should be held onto, deepened and extended, or when we were failing into the sin of wanting to perpetuate an institution that, unlike the structures of the world, could not be concerned about enduring, but only about dying, death, and rebirth. We dreaded being “among those who shrink back and are lost,” but we were uncertain that we were among those who “have the faith to make life our own.”* What did it mean at this stage of our corporate life to be a pilgrim people? Merton speaks about the joumey of faith from the security of what is known to the insecurity of what is unknown. We recalled how Abraham was led out from a place he called home, where normalcy prevailed and structures could be counted on to give stability, to a place that was known surely only in the words of Yahweh.

Gradually dark clouds moved away, we began to talk less about what had been, and to look with hope to the future. We spoke more about small liberating communities that would be less encumbered by problems of maintenance, and where large amounts of time usually given to maintaining the unity and healthy functioning of a large organism could flow into the building of small communities of caring in which people could easily find a place, could grow and stretch, and be given a new name. Ever so slowly we began to speak of the New Land to which we were being called, and to learn once more to name Abraham as the father of our faith.

Eight of our members were chosen by the community and “sent out” to explore the New Land. They were asked to report back to the Council on what its shape might be and how the new Exodus might be made. The meetings of that group, called the New Land’s Servant Group, were long and arduous. Some knew from the beginning where they were headed and how to go. They did not hide well their impatience with those who were uncertain of the Way, whose heads told them one thing and their feelings another. Among our number were also those who were process-oriented, and their way clashed with those who operated in a highly intuitive way. Some wanted more prayer and less talk; others, more talk and less prayer. A few wanted to name all the alternatives and to try each on for size, so that we could find out which felt best.

Some were much too literal for fantasy trips of the kind that pictured the church in Diaspora-the scattered fellowship. This option included selling all the properties of the church, letting the staff go, and centering our entire focus on building small groups such as our own mission groups. The purpose would be to form communities of the people of God which would come out from the whole of the society and culture in which we live, and form the nuclei of a new society. Like the Assisi community begun by St. Francis, we would endeavor to be a source of light and hope and to live in faithfulness to God’s call, With values and a style of life and community which would bear witness to the power of the Gospel. We would not only give up church property, we would share our personal material wealth with the oppressed. We would do so because of a confidence that therein lay the path of our own peace and our own experiencing of the community toward which we were journeying. We could show forth in our life together a way of human fulfillment and true liberation that might become a model for the world to insure survival for all humankind in the decades ahead. Those of us who lived our way deeply into this option saw the growth of such communities throughout the country-even the world -each committed to a common discipline and the encouragement and support of each other. Once a year, or once every seven years, we would meet together for a time of common sharing that would last for seven days.

Like a special “order,” the number of such groups would increase .

Such a fantasy was too threatening for some of us to live with for too long. We put it aside, knowing in our hearts that whatever the way we chose as a community, issues had been raised that would have to be dealt with in the future.

Any small group is in some way our whole world in microcosm. In the small group we recreate the experiences and relationships that we have in other combinations of persons. The Jungian analyst, Eleanor Bertine, wrote: “A new world order looms in the dense mists, and the great world-struggle is carried on in miniature within the narrow frame of a little club.”* To the small group we bring the hopes, fears, wishes, conflicts, projections, and expectations that move all the time in each of our beings. Those elected by the Council to the New Land’s Servant Group found this painfully true. We had to struggle for unity. Sometimes courageously and sometimes, because we could not prevent it, we let our clay feet stick out for everyone to see. In the marriage ceremony Gordon Cosby will often say to the new .,wife and husband, “I charge each of you to grow to that place where each derives major satisfaction from giving satisfaction to the other.” This is a charge that the church might well make to the members of each new group that forms.

After months of meeting, the New Land’s Servant Group was sent on a two-day retreat. At our Dayspring Retreat Center amid the surroundings which had so often opened our lives and hearts at new levels to God’s word for our individual pilgrimage, we began to sense together beckonings for our corporate way to the New Land.

Our retreat at Dayspring began on Sunday evening with a communion supper. Every group session was followed by several hours of silence in which to reflect on what had been said, to listen to God’s word and direction. AU the meals were in silence except for readings from devotional classics. Every new meeting began first with a sharing of feelings, and then reflections, insights and hints of the New Land. Moving within this structure our fears receded. We began to see in concert with each other the creative possibilities inherent in small sister communities. We began to let go of familiar ways and familiar landscapes, to take up once again the never predictable journey of a tent-dwelling people.

Wes Michaelson, who had been the scribe of all our meetings, penned the report which was presented at the next meeting of the Council. In part it read:

Our call must be our starting point. That call is to be a community centered in resolute faithfulness to Jesus Christ. It is to be s new community-those who are his body, molded by his Spirit. To build such a community of faith is our abiding call and revolutionary action.

That call encompasses the marks which our community has discovered through its history to be true and essential to its identity as God’s people: the corporate commitments of spiritual discipline, the nurture of mission groups as primary crucibles of community, inner healing, growth and transformation of our lives into true maturity in Christ, and the sacrificial outpouring of our life together in mission to the brokenness of the world.

We believe that our call as a community has four directions: First, to Christ’s church throughout the world; we are part of the ecumenical church, and want to give ourselves to its life. Second, to the stranger in our midst; we are called to bring Christ’s love to all those whose lives intersect at any point with ours. Third, to the poor and oppressed of this world. Fourth, to the building of our own common life; all else must flow from our call to be God’s people, celebrating and nurturing ourselves as Christ’s Body.

The Servant Group for the New Land repeatedly focused on three elements which describe our community’s current situation: the size and complexity of our present corporate structures, the overburdening of our pastoral leadership, and the lack of faithfulness to our covenant.

On our retreat, we further expressed our view of the issues before the community: multiplicity of demands resulting in confusion, dissipation of energy, and erosion of the sense of community.

Our task, then, is to discover structures which will better enable us to live out our corporate call. These structures should provide us with a sense of clarity, new and focused energy for outward mission and inward growth and a deeper sense of Christian community.

We believe that those structures can best be created by the formation of sister communities, each of which will function as a separate congregation, comprised of various clusters of the twenty-two existing mission groups in The Church of The Saviour. These congregations would be bound by deep spiritual ties because of their common parentage, but would be legally and organizationally independent. They would be separate churches, closely linked by history, ongoing fellowship, and potentially interlinking missions.

All mission groups, and thus the entire church membership, would probably find their lives lived out in the context of one of these communities.

The New Land’s Servant Group would recommend then, that the existing Church of The Saviour be reconstituted into at least three or more sister communities of faith, with separate leadership, council, budget, organization, worship, and membership.

Such an action would restore clarity to our structures and purposes of corporate life, would enable new energies and creativity to be released for the work of the Kingdom and the deepening of our life in Christ, and the context for us all to experience and build deeper Christian community. The bonds of spiritual kinship and cooperative mission which would be nurtured between these sister communities could, and we hope would be extended toward other communities of Christ’s people all over the country and all over the world.

The Church of The Saviour has been born, nurtured, and brought into fullness through the ministry of Gordon Cosby. Naturally his relationship to its future is a matter of primary concern. Through his sharing with us, Gordon has made clear that he continues to be called to the whole community, and that he would continue, if desired by any of the sister communities, to encourage the nurture of new leadership within them, and to assist in ministering on behalf of the growth of each whole. We confirm Gordon in this call.

It is our conviction that these directions will enable us to live out more fully our call to be faithful members of Christ’s Body.

During the period of the meetings of the New Land’s Servant Group our community used a common lectionary made up of those Scriptures that we felt would be helpful to us in our search. We titled it, Readings for Pilgrimage to the New Land. To the best of our abilities we had allowed our “thoughts and purposes” to be sifted by the Word of God. Alternating with long stretches of unfaith when we worried about ourselves and where we were going were other times when we touched the glory of being among those who have a vision for the earth.

In the days that followed the report to the Council, many of us felt a new kind of solitariness. We were not lonely in any usual sense of that word. We had never had so many meetings, engaged in so many conversations, or had so little time “to ourselves.” But in the midst of it we sometimes fell silent. In the long pauses we searched faces to discover kindred souls with whom we might share painful feelings of aloneness. In the end we even drew apart from the faithful friend to become Kierkegaard’s “solitary individual,” the one who stands alone before God, and comes face to face with his or her own “eternal responsibility.” It is one thing to grapple for the corporate form of one’s group or community, and another to become the solitary one who struggles for one’s own destiny and vocation. Only that person who confronts each day the everlasting responsibility of being an individual can become a true builder of community.

Members of our congregation began to sound calls for the formation of new sister communities or faith communities as we more often call them. Before the year was out six new church communities emerged.

One community formed around The Potter’s House and its ministry through a coffee house and book store; another around Jubilee Housing and its commitment to provide safe and affordable housing for the poor. Those issuing the call for the Dayspring Church were committed to spiritual renewal and to caring for the land that The Church of The Saviour had purchased in 19 5 3 as a place of retreat and renewal. Over the years Dayspring had nurtured us in the contemplative life, and the members of the new faith community wanted it to continue as a center where all who touched its life would become more deeply rooted in God and live more fully in covenant with the earth and all sentient beings. The Eighth Day focused its talents and energy on being truly polycultural-open to the insight and inherited wisdom of all the world’s cultures. The Seekers initially gathered around innovative worship services and a commitment to fully value and support the spiritual journeys of children. Dunamis, the sixth community, emerged to work with persons at the point of their vocations with an emphasis on those carrying political responsibility.

All these calls to new faith communities were issued by the brave in our midst. The rest of us often seemed to be milling around or engaged in a kind of fervent waiting on God. No one was left sitting on the sidelines. Everyone was engaged in a passionate way. We were looking at ourselves and our missions with a critical absorption, seeking as best we could to discover where God was calling us.

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