by | Nov 22, 2009 | Comment, Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Ten years ago, he first noticed it. A yellow ceiling stain. A water leak.

Year after year it grew worse. Bigger. Darker. Sometimes during Sunday services he would glance up and wonder how much longer the old roof had.

Then one morning, in the spring of 2006, he came in after Bible study and saw plaster dust all over the pews, and a big chunk of what had once been the top of his church now, shall we say, more in touch with the Earth?

“We cleaned up the plaster, but it kept getting worse,” the Rev. Henry Covington says. “Finally, one of our members climbed up to scrape the drywall, and the more he scraped, the more it came falling out.”

There was no stopping the rot. It grew bigger than a man. Bigger than a horse. It became known as “the hole in the roof,” a symbol of decay in the once-grand Trumbull Avenue Presbyterian Church, which more than a century ago had been the largest Presbyterian congregation in the Midwest.

These days, the building sits among the crumbling, largely abandoned blocks off Trumbull and Brainard. Covington’s congregation, the I Am My Brother’s Keeper Ministries, which took over the building, never had the funds to repair the infamous hole. Its members are mostly poor. Several nights a week, the church becomes a shelter for homeless people, who sleep on a gym floor. During the winter, it gets bone-chilling cold. But what can they do? Any attempt to heat the sanctuary goes up and out through the roof hole.

But that is about to change. A time to celebrate

I wrote about this church in my book, “Have a Little Faith.” I wrote about how the heat was turned off last winter because of unpaid bills, and how the congregation – including many of the homeless clients – were forced to build a giant plastic tent inside the sanctuary, just to have someplace dry and semi-warm to pray. I wrote about how deep an act of faith that was.

And a funny thing happened.

Despite the worst economic crisis in 75 years, despite every reason to say, “Sorry, can’t help you, I have to take care of myself,” people were moved.

Some were moved to come serve food to the homeless. Some were moved to send a dollar. Or $5. Dr. Phil was moved to do a show and donate money. A church in California was moved to offer to pay for the building supplies.

A foundation I started called A Hole in the Roof began receiving funds from around the state, then the country, then the world. A campaign was launched on Twitter called “Shingle Bells.”

And thanks to that generosity – from schoolkids, grandmothers, people of all faiths – on Monday morning, at 9, a roofing crew will arrive, and will be greeted by some of the most relieved and enthusiastic church members you’ll ever see.

And the hole will begin to disappear. A time to get to work

“If you’re willing to stand on faith, even when things seem like they’re not going to happen,” Covington says, gratefully, “sometimes those things happen. And Monday is the day that comes true.”

The homeless churchgoers will sleep there Sunday night – in anticipation of the construction – and Monday morning, they will welcome the trucks and help unload the wood, shingles and nails of goodwill toward men.

In this way, the crumbling church of a small congregation becomes newly attached to hundreds around the globe. And in a few weeks, when the job is done, a plaque with the name of every person who made even the smallest contribution will be placed in the ceiling where the rain once poured in.

That’s a cool way to plug a hole.

“It’s like we were lost in the wilderness, and someone came and rescued us,” Covington says. Maybe so. For the first time in years, Christmas at his church will be dry and safe and warm.

But someone gave me a small stone to put in the roof – it reads “Miracles Happen”- and while I believe that’s true, so is this: All we really have to do is look out for one another, help fix each other’s holes, and the miraculous can be an everyday thing.

Mitch Albom will sign copies of “Have a Little Faith” at 11 a.m. Friday at Borders Express in Twelve Oaks Mall and at 1 p.m. Nov. 29 at Barnes & Noble in Royal Oak. To help with other repairs at Pilgrim Church, donate to aholeintheroof.com and SAYDetroit.org. Contact MITCH ALBOM: 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com


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New book, The Little Liar, arrives November 14. Get the details »

Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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