Last weekend I spent a few days working with a network of churches called COS I Love You (COS is the airport code for Colorado Springs).
It’s a partnership between around 35 churches from across the Springs (as the locals call it), and involves them mobilizing thousands of volunteers to work in community service projects over one weekend in October. Their goal is to help beautify, rebuild, and restore special places in Colorado Springs, including public schools, parks, local businesses, and non-profit organizations in an effort to meet the immediate needs of the city.
On Saturday I spent much of the day visiting projects, including seeing people:
- cleaning up trash from the hiking trails in the Garden of the Gods state park;
- helping to build an annexe on Mary’s House, a crisis accommodation unit for survivors of domestic violence;
- renovating a nursery for a single mother;
- painting a new pergola that had been constructed at the Springs Rescue Mission.
But there were 72 project sites across the city in total, so I only got to see a few of them. But, by all accounts, it was an explosion of love right across Colorado Springs.
The Cos I Love You folks say, “We want to be the hands and feet of Jesus to those in need – bringing love and restoration to our city through uniting our local churches and inspiring people to act.”
Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, Tampa Underground is a network of hundreds of missional microchurches, each of which comprises members thoroughly committed to engaging “every kind of evil in our city with prayerful action.”
Tampa Underground is committed to connecting individuals into missional communities and empowering them to discover and obey their God given mission. So far, they have launched missional communities, or micro-churches, to serve in the following projects:
- Affirmation Ballet Company – encouraging self esteem among young girls;
- The Box – an improv theatre group;
- Beer and Bible discussion group;
- NUBAI – challenging distorted images of the black community;
- Nuestro Salón – campus group;
- The Initiative – addressing men with addiction, homelessness, depression, and incarceration;
- Unveiled – ministering with women who have been harmed by sexual abuse;
- You Matter – supporting the homeless;
- Midway – reaching middle schoolers;
- Held – doula services for single mothers before, during and after birth;
- Grounded – supporting foster carers.
That’s just a sample of the over 200 microchurches, or communities of faith, focused on serving a particular people group with a particular need. As the folks at UG say,
“We believe firmly that people make up the church, not buildings or budgets, or even leaders. When believers work together in sincere worship and genuine community to accomplish a part of the mission of God, they are the church.”
Recently, the New York Times did a story on a humble Australian pastor serving faithfully and at great personal sacrifice in the drought-stricken farming town of Wee Waa.
According to the Times, Rev Bernard Gabbott serves not only as a priest, but a counselor, a social worker, and a philanthropist drawing from his own modest funds, for the 2000 people of the dying farming community. Journalist, David Maurice Smith said,
“At times, he provides solace; in other moments, he must convince hard-pressed families to set aside their pride and accept vouchers for the grocery store.”
And Gabbott does all this from his “office” in a corner booth at the town’s bakery.
Right now, I’m getting ready to leave Colorado Springs for New York City where I’m partnering with Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan and their City to City program.
Redeemer Pres is committed to strengthening and launching non-profits to serve the poor and
marginalized in New York City, by providing volunteers, resources, coaching, and capacity building in order to mobilize New Yorkers at large to become agents of change for the common good of the city through existing and new institutions.
I could go on. I’ve seen similar projects to Cos I Love You in Berlin and Amsterdam. I’ve seen faithful, caring pastors working in country towns in Canada and inner city parishes in London. I’ve seen philanthropic churches like Redeemer serving the needy in San Francisco and Nairobi.
Celebrated atheist Christopher Hitchins might have said that religion poisons everything, but despite all the evidence he could muster to demonstrate that Christianity is “violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children,” I could counter with stories of sacrifice, service, generosity and hospitality.
A friend of mine, John Dickson has made a film entitled For the Love of God: How the church is better and worse than you ever imagined. It’s a documentary that confronts both the worst that Christians have done as well as the best. John addresses Christianity’s involvement in the Crusades, the slave trade, and colonialism, while also tracing the origins of Western values like human rights, charity, humility, and non-violence back to the influence of Jesus.
Christians can really suck. If you have been hurt by one, or someone professing to be one, I’m sorry. That person, or persons, was a jerk.
But right now, Salvation Army officers are helping people out of the gutter, and the Sisters of Mercy are preparing a hot meal for the hungry. Christian workers are laying out new community gardens, and sitting by the dying in hospices. They’re protesting against cruel immigration policies and hosting 12-step programs.
Christians aren’t angels. But every so often it’s worth noticing what they’re doing to realise, as John Dickson says, “they’re much better than you ever imagined”.