Imagine if churches made us cool. If that could happen, Colorado Springs would go from the country's second-most desirable city (U.S. News & World Report) to a solid first-place finish no other cities could match.
In Colorado Springs, churches we got. Some call this place the Evangelical Vatican.
In a column for Sunday's edition, Gazette Editor Vince Bzdek called the Springs "an epicenter of do-gooders," as home to Focus on the Family, New Life Church, the Navigators, more than 100 evangelical organizations, multiple megachurches and nearly 200 nonprofits dedicated to service.
This has long been a blessing and curse. The curse involves negative stereotypes about judgmental religious rigidity and the occasional tales of high-profile religious hypocrites caught being naughty.
Bzdek grew up in Colorado and played basketball for Colorado College, long ago A.D. His journalism career landed him in ranking editing positions at the Washington Post before he returned to the Springs to oversee The Gazette's news products.
Since returning, Bzdek has witnessed and read about the community's growing homeless population. So he set out to determine what effort churches and other religious organizations put forth to assist with the dilemma. He quickly found a massive multidenominational effort of churches, called "City Serve," working to help people up and out of homelessness, addiction and despair.
Bzdek described what much of the mainstream media and an increasingly secularized public either take for granted or fail to see. Religious organizations are in the business of social service on a massive scale.
Data support this assertion, but anyone can see it by looking around. Most of the homeless shelters in Colorado Springs, Denver and other parts of Colorado are owned, operated and funded by religious organizations. Springs Rescue Mission, check. Salvation Army, check. Denver Rescue Mission, check. Denver Samaritan House, check.
Religious organizations are in a daily rush to fund and staff everything from AIDS hospices, to soup kitchens, to battered women's shelters to nonprofit hospitals. Imagine Colorado Springs without the Marian House Soup Kitchen. Even secular charities, such as Tri-Lakes Cares, depend heavily on gifts and support from the religious sector.
In a national sea of religious and other nonprofit charity, Colorado Springs is a hub. We are to religion and nonprofits what Detroit is to cars and Nashville is to music.
So Bzdek offered a vision. What if, he wrote, the Springs were to more fully embrace this identity. Not the "hypocritical preacher" image, but one of thousands of charity employees and volunteers giving selflessly to improve the world around them.
Millennials, young professionals starting families and careers, are often described as a generation interested in making a difference. They want more justice and peace.
"You want to attract millennials here? Give them jobs, sure, but what if they began to think of Colorado Springs as a place they could come to find purpose?" Bzdek asks.
A prophet leaves his homeland only to return with a fresh perspective. (We know, "prophet" is a stretch).
Hundreds of socially conscious charities reside near the base of majestic Pikes Peak. They make the Springs a uniquely inspiring platform from which to make a difference. Consider them a good start upon which to build, and begin spreading the word about a community driven by purpose.