church of the saviour

Mary Cosby, Cofounder of the Landmark Church of the Saviour, Dies at 93

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Mary Campbell Cosby, cofounder of the Church of the Saviour movement she launched with her husband and partner Rev. N. Gordon Cosby in the 1940s, died this week in Washington, D.C. She was 93 years old.

News of her passing spread quickly on July 3. Kayla McClurg sent an email to family and friends saying, “I am writing to let you know that our dear Mary Cosby passed away very gently and suddenly this afternoon at Christ House.”

Loving Like Christ

Gordon Cosby, photo by Ed Spivey Jr.

GORDON COSBY was perhaps the most Christian human being I have known. But he would always be the first to raise serious questions about what it meant to be a “Christian” and lived a different life than many of his fellow pastors and church leaders who call themselves Christian. Gordon was happier just calling himself a follower of Jesus. He always told people who wanted to call him “reverend” to just say “Gordon.”

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Gordon Cosby: My Mentor

Kevin Clark/Washington Post/Getty Images
Gordon Cosby, founder, during his final sermon at the Church of the Saviour in 2008. Kevin Clark/Washington Post/Getty Images

Gordon Cosby was my spiritual father, not simply a brother in Christ. This relationship continued for some 45 years until his dying days. In a time when egalitarianism defines nearly all relationships as the desired norm, it’s well to remember the role of mentors who maintain, purely through their own internal integrity and faithfulness, a spiritual authority in the lives of others. Gordon Cosby was such a person to me, and to countless others.

I first encountered Gordon when I was a young legislative aide on the rise in Washington, D.C., working for Senator Mark O. Hatfield and his legislative efforts to end the Vietnam War. Disgusted with the moral vacuity of the evangelicalism that had been my heritage, but searching for faith that was more than just following a progressive social agenda, I discovered the Church of the Saviour. Gordon’s insistence that following Jesus required a disciplined inner spiritual journey always expressed in joining God’s outward mission in the world captivated me then, and ever since.

Oil Addicts Anonymous

If the United States is a fossil fuel addict, then the Alberta tar sands are our next big fix.

The tar sands contain the largest oil reserves in North America and their extraction has been called "the most destructive project on earth". The proposed Keystone XL Pipeline would carry oil from the tar sands down to Texas refineries, making it available for our consumption and pushing a turn to green energy sources even further down the road.

Borrowing wisdom from the twelve step program pioneered by Alcoholics Anonymous, theologian Ched Myers contends that addiction -- "the inability to say no because of captivity to pathological desires" -- names our spiritual and cultural condition. Perhaps nowhere is this clearer than in the case of fossil fuels.

Nestling for the Planet

The April issue of Sojourners magazine takes on climate change denial. One challenge is that the truth is hard to face -- but, as scientist Sasha Adkins describes from personal experience, one strategy is to draw inspiration from the comforts of home.

The question that I am most often asked when I talk about my Ph.D. research on the impacts of pollution has nothing to do with my methodology or my data. It is, "How do you live with this knowledge? Where do you find your hope?" It's a good question. My research results on the impact of plastics on human health and the environment are often quite demoralizing to hear. More than once when I am presenting them, an audience member has literally started to cry.

I took a year off from my environmental studies program to search for the answer to that very question, to find hope -- but this time, instead of turning to peer-reviewed journals for answers, I turned to my cats. I asked them if they would be willing to try living without fossil-fuel heat for the winter.

Strength From the Inside Out

This article is adapted from an interview with N. Gordon Cosby in Washington in mid-June 1991. Sojourners' Carey Burkett began by asking Gordon Cosby what we have to be thankful for, as we look back over the past 20 years. -- The Editors

As a movement, as people of faith, we can be thankful we have survived the past 20 years. Survivability is very difficult when we try to take an alternative position and try to be alternative communities in the midst of the sort of atmosphere and climate we've lived in. But we have developed a capacity to hang in there, and not only survive but grow.

There are a lot of us on the same page. We've got a common language. That to me is a very important thing. We have good people, who are seeing these issues of justice, peace, concern for the poor, work with the inward life, and the importance of prayer.

What Sojourners contributes to this network is a national and international voice that deals with the same issues local groups are. For those people to have access to the thinkers and the commitment and spirit Sojourners brings provides support that is very important for all of us working with these concerns. To have someone out there saying "Amen" is probably more important than most people know.

One of the great weaknesses of our movement, however, is that while we've talked a lot about the inward journey, I doubt any one of us has actually worked with the inner life in the depth that is crucial. Many of the groups working with justice and peace issues have not developed structures that really take people into their depths. So we have an idea, a concern, an aspiration, but it remains an idea because there are too many inner blockages.

Parker J. Palmer has addressed this issue in a very straightforward way:

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