Rain falls on the church roof. It pours through a gaping hole and splashes onto the pews. Against the plop, plop, plop of gathering water, a pastor urges nearly 100 weary men to believe in the future. They wear old jackets or sweatshirts. They line up for chili and cornbread. They sleep on the floor, atop vinyl mattresses.
“Enjoy the meal,” the pastor tells them as they line up. “There’s a place for you here. See that man for a blanket…”
This is my hometown, Detroit, in a devastated economy, in a crumbling church, on a cold, hard floor at the bottom of the world.
And still, there is hope.
If there is any advantage to living at the epicenter of the economic crisis, where our main industry—the auto business—has imploded, where abandoned houses seem to dot every corner, where the unemployment rate is a staggering 25%, it is this: You get to see what man is made of.
What I have seen is that man is made of tough stuff. Man can rise to the occasion. One such man is the pastor of this church. His name is Henry Covington. Thirty years ago, he was in prison. He’d been a drug dealer, a drug abuser, a thief, and an armed robber. He had every excuse to see the world as hopeless.
But on a night when he truly hit bottom, hiding behind trash cans, certain he would be murdered by angry drug dealers, he promised his life to God if he lived to the morning.
He kept his promise.
These days, Pastor Covington, 52, runs the I Am My Brother’s Keeper Ministries in downtown Detroit. His huge brick building was once—more than a century ago—the largest Presbyterian church in the upper Midwest. Now, like much of Detroit, it’s been overgrown with poverty, and there are broken windows and a hole in the sanctuary roof through which the rainwater collects in buckets. Several times, this ministry has been close to folding. Local drug lords even offered the pastor money to let them use the church for their dealings.
But Henry Covington was done with that life.
Instead, he dug in. He found a way. Today, he conducts services through the cold, through the snow, even under a giant plastic tent when the gas company shuts the heat off due to unpaid bills. He takes little salary and lives with his family in a tiny, nearby home.
And yet, he says, “I’m where I’m supposed to be.”
What he means is that he is where he can make a difference. In that way, Covington is typical of many people in this economy who find new meaning in their lives despite losing jobs, homes, or status: They find it by giving to others and reconnecting with their faith.
(The above is part of a story which ran in yesterday’s Parade Mag. Read the rest about this Pastor which is making an impact Finding The Silver Lining.)