Honoring the Life of Gordon Cosby
by Aaron Graham
This morning Gordon Cosby, founder of Church of the Savior, passed away in his sleep at 95 years old.
Gordon and his wife Mary started Church of the Savior around 1950 here in DC. They never had more than 120 members but together they’ve been able to start over 70 ministries and nonprofits over the years. Samaritan Inns, Christ House, and Mary’s Center are a few examples.
What is interesting is the way these ministries started. It was almost always in small groups. Many of these small groups formed as a result of Gordon’s preaching and commitment to discipleship. When one person was called, they couldn’t act on that call until at least one other person felt that calling and they formed a small group.
So when Dr. Janelle Goetcheus felt the call to serve the homeless with health care she couldn’t act on it until someone else had that calling. So they started a small group. That turned into Columbia Road Health Services, that expanded into Christ House, that expanded into Joseph’s House, that expanded into Kairos House.
Today Janelle runs Unity Health Care in DC that served over 90,000 low-income patients in DC in one year alone!
Margaret Mead once said, “Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Gordon Cosby passed away in the place he has lived for the last few decades. Christ House, a ministry he helped to start to care for homeless men who are coming off the streets.
I’ve admired Gordon from afar for most of my life but over the last couple years I’ve had the opportunity to sit down with him several times and be mentored. His humility, commitment to Christ, commitment to the poor, and devotion to prayer are contagious.
The last time Gordon and I spoke we mostly talked about prayer. Most people know about Church of the Savior because of their social ministries, but anyone who spends time with Gordon knows that the secret to his success lies in his commitment to prayer.
When I asked Gordon to share with me how prayer has been foundation for him all these years, he said the following:
“The inward and the outward go together. Lots of people are talking about the inward journey, but not talking about Jesus Christ. It’s not just a general inward emphasis. It needs to be focused on Christ. The inward journey is a relationship with Jesus. Surrendering to God in the person of Christ.”
He went on to say, “A lot of people who are talking to this emerging and new age stuff are not coming to Jesus. This is a radical gospel. Jesus must be central.”
He said over the years people have been very interested in the outward ministries of Church of the Savior but have become impatient with the inward journey. People act like, “We’ve seen what we want to see,” and then they quickly want to move on to what is next. But Cosby says, “We have to encounter the Spirit from which the outward comes.”
When I asked Gordon to share about where his conviction came from to start the church, he always took me back to WWII where he was a chaplain in the army. He said he had buried more people than anyone he has ever known. He remembered before going into one battle the commanding officer pulling them all together and saying that tomorrow they would lose half of their men.
He was there in the midst of hundreds of thousands of people dying at D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge. I’ll never forget what Gordon said as he summarized his story to me, “I saw them as they looked death in the face…and I had not prepared them at all.”
This is what led him Gordon to move to Washington, DC and identify with the suffering of this city. And to be radical in that commitment.
Gordon is someone who always challenged me and others to keep Christ at the center. To not be so fascinated with building the Kingdom, that I forget about the formation that must happen inside of myself.
I’m so grateful for his example to me. I have always felt like if I could accomplish 1/10 of what he did for this city I would die a content man.
You will be missed Gordon, but please know that your work and this message of Christ will continue to spread in this city and beyond.