A small, local nonprofit that builds bridges of cooperation between people in churches, parachurch organizations, other nonprofits, businesses, schools and city and county governments is gearing up for its annual initiative that it bills as “the largest single-day volunteerism event in El Paso County.”
COSILoveYou, a small nonprofit that emerged from church leaders’ desires to help the community, hopes to enroll more than 5,000 volunteers for the seventh annual edition of its CityServe event on Oct. 2.
The day of service, which will benefit parks, schools, community centers, nonprofits, trails and other places that could use some help, will be preceded by evening worship services on Oct. 1 at two participating churches.
As one local pastor described the weekend events, “We bend our knees in worship, then bend our knees in service to the community.”
The goal isn’t flexing political muscle to “take over” the reins of local government, as one local religious leader recently proposed. The goal isn’t even evangelism.
The mission is simple: “Unite and ignite the Church to love Colorado Springs,” demonstrating the “tangible love of God” through practical love of one’s neighbors.
Part of growing global movementCityServe started in 2014 when leaders of First Presbyterian Church, New Life Church’s downtown congregation and Solid Rock Christian Center came together to serve the community.
The effort has grown significantly. COSILoveYou is now supported by 92 partners, including dozens of diverse congregations and some of the city’s largest religious organizations.
In 2015, participating ministry leaders held their first annual Leadership Gathering, which featured a talk from Springs Mayor John Suthers about local challenges that could benefit from their efforts.
In 2017, COSILoveYou affiliated with the global City Gospel Movement, a program launched by the Oregon-based evangelistic organization Luis Palau Association.
Kevin Palau, president of the ministry that’s named after his late father, said COSILoveYou is among the top 632 City Gospel Movements worldwide, which equip believers to collaborate with others for the good of their cities.
Palau said people wanting to start similar groups in their own communities, including Loving Houston in Texas, have come to the Springs to study what’s happening here.
Palau said their ministry launched the City Gospel Movement in their home city of Portland, a progressive city “where the church has been known more for what we were against than what we were for.”
He said serving cities encourages churches to transcend “the secondary theological points that we may disagree on so we can agree and work together on loving and serving the community, which is a great thing for everybody.”
Christ prayed that his followers would display such unity, saying that if they did so, “the world will know” that God sent Christ to Earth to redeem humanity (John 17:22-24).
An article in Christianity Today by Denver journalist Liam Adams portrayed COSILoveYou as part of an effort by some evangelicals in the Springs to reset their engagement with the city —from polarizing to loving.
“It’s one thing to tell the city that you’re there for its good,” said the June 21 article. “It’s another to show it.”
Or as Stu Davis, COSILoveYou’s executive director put it in a recent letter to supporters:
“A global pandemic, political and racial outrage, and economic crises have created divisions and animosity where we used to look for hope and peace.”
Davis previously led student ministries at Woodmen Valley Chapel, and later worked as community relations director at Springs Rescue Mission.
He says starting in 2012, God began to “dislodge” him from his comfortable Christian career and prepare him for “something different.”
During a camping trip with his kids, he heard God speak to him “as clearly as I ever felt God speaking to me.” The divine message was: “It’s time to go.”
In addition to leading COSILoveYou, Davis is president of Woodmen Valley Chapel’s Center for Strategic Ministry. The center, which pays Davis’ salary, also operates the Westside Community Center.
Davis says COSILoveYou helps pastors — who are often “consumed by what’s happening inside the four walls of their churches” and “don’t have the time or opportunity to listen to what’s happening in their city” — connect to community needs.
It also helps believers looking for good ways to reach out.
“The vast majority of Christians want to be helpful and compassionate, but often times, they’re not sure how,” Davis said.
Convene, collaborate, contribute
COSILoveYou seeks to fulfill its “mission of generosity to the city” through a number of events throughout the year.
CityServe is the biggest effort. The 2019 edition brought some 4,200 volunteers to 196 local service locations. COVID-19 reduced 2020’s numbers by about half and forced the worship service online.
It recently wrapped up its Backpack Bash, which delivered 12,000 backpacks full of school supplies to underserved families.
The annual COSILoveSchools Day aims to “find new and creative ways to show support to our local schools, demonstrating that our educators are appreciated and valued.”
This year, that meant 26 churches volunteering at 30 schools. Christianity Today reported:
“At Monterrey Elementary School, members of one evangelical church wrote letters to encourage teachers. At Mark Twain Elementary, volunteers from another church did landscaping work and reorganized the library.”
COSILoveYou has also directed funds provided by local churches to line up food trucks to feed hospital workers struggling amid the COVID pandemic.
The group’s volunteers even handle unique requests.
During the COVID lockdown, someone called Pikes Peak United Way’s 211 help line for essential services with a heartbreaking request. An 80-something-year-old man hadn’t seen anyone in months, and now it was his birthday. Could someone just talk to him for a few moments?
The request was relayed to COSILoveYou, and within six hours, a volunteer had baked and delivered a cake, and sang “Happy Birthday.”