Liz's blog posted March 30 led to mention of this church in Washington. I gave a list of Elizabeth O'Connor's books, but omitted the second one, entitled Journey In, Journey Out. That title says a lot about the ethos of the Church of the Savior.
During WW II a young minister named Gordon Cosby, just graduated from the Louisville Baptist Seminary, became a chaplain in the 101st Airborne Division. They lived through some harrowing times, including the Battle of the Bulge.
Gordon's impressionable experience suggested that when it came to the hard things soldiers have to do, like dying, the men of faith seemed to have nothing to speak of over the others. From that he deduced something wrong with the conventional church. He set out to organize an unconventional one; it became one of the most famous churches of the second half of the 20th century. Ellie and I were privileged to go there from 1972-83, after which we became Quakers. (Actually Elton Trueblood, a primary inspiration for Gordon, used to attend once a year.)
Gordon began with his wife, Mary, and her sister E.A. (E.A. also had a husband, but he had passed away before Ellie and I came.) Those three very charismatic people developed a church that always remained small, but probably did more for the life of Washington than any church of 5,000.
Gordon deliberately kept it small. He reminded me of Gideon, who started with a numerous army and among them selected 300 men and sent the rest home (Judges 7:5ff). Gordon and/or the church selected out most of the people who came to worship in the church; it was actually more of an order than a church.
They selected out all who did not tithe their gross income. They had a course of study called the School of Christian Living in preparation for membership that usually required about 3 years. After the first year you were able to join a mission group (as an intern member) while continuing your preparation for full membership.
When you joined (and were ordained!!), it was for one year. Thereafter each October you exercised the option to renew your membership for another year-- or not. A small corps of people continued year after year. Many people, like Ellie and me, joined for a while, then went on to other fields of service.
The membership was actually in the mission group to which you were called; each group had an active corporate spiritual life. When we started there most of the members worshipped on Sunday at headquarters, an old Victorian home on Mass. Ave near Dupont Circle; however the real life of the church was focused in the small groups.
They had a spiritual discipline of daily prayer, meditation, reading, journaling. Of course you must be involved in the corporate mission as well. Each group had a spiritual director; when I heard that it curled my eyebrows, but I found it less awesome than it sounded. Soon in fact I became a spiritual director, and of course had one of my own; it was an intimate relationship in which we had the freedom to share, encourage, inspire, and confess to one another. It was truly Christian living.
The missions were awesome: this small group of 150 odd had built a lovely retreat center in Maryland; they also started Potter's House, likely the first Christian coffee house in the country. For a couple of years I belonged to the Thursday Potters House mission group. On Thursday night we ran the place: prepared the food, waited on customers, sold books, operated the cash registry, etc. We spent an hour of spiritual preparation for that activity. Oh yes, I sometimes washed dishes.
They decided it was time to try and provide better houses in the inner city, so they bought two old dilapidated apartment buildings, renovated the apartments one by one, and rented them out at reasonable rates.
One by one an enormous number of such missions came into being. These guys were serious about their faith.
I had gone up there, from Winston-Salem, because like Gordon I had become disillusioned with the quality of commitment in the average church. Besides I had been working for ten years trying to help drunks sober up and felt due for a rest from that.
I gained access to a quality of people I had never been around before-- at least in such large numbers. It was a creative decade, and excellent preparation to move over to the Quaker way.
I could go on and on, but you have probably had enough for now.