This film has the story — and the spirit

by | Nov 27, 2011 | Comment, Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Church stories are usually for Sunday mornings. But tonight — Sunday night — there will be a certain church story shown nationwide on ABC, and it’s pretty special because it started right here, in Detroit, with a drop of rain.

As the years passed, the rain began to rot the roof. The ceiling grew brown. The plaster peeled and fell.

One morning, the pastor of this church — a big, smiling, heavyset man named Henry Covington — noticed the rain had rotted a hole through the ceiling. It got bigger. And bigger. Soon the hole was nearly 20 feet long, and the water came pouring in, splashing on the pews as the congregants prayed.

In other churches, in other places, they start a drive to raise funds for repairs. But in this church, in this city, there was no such money. The congregants were poor. Some were homeless. And Pastor Henry was a once-wayward soul who, in giving his life to God, left the bad life behind and took nothing with him.

The hole grew and grew.

But the power of a place.

It can move mountains.

Hollywood comes to Detroit

So in the pews of that church, a few years back, I sat with Henry — five minutes after meeting him — and we looked at that hole, and we talked about fixing it, but first he told me he had been a drug dealer, a thief, an addict, incarcerated. He told me this because he wanted to be honest. There was a spirit in the air, and we became friends.

And earlier this year, in those same pews of that same church, I sat with executives from the Hallmark Hall of Fame. They wanted to make a movie of “Have a Little Faith,” the book I wrote about Henry and how the hole was fixed. Although they’d asked to meet in Los Angeles, I’d insisted on Detroit. I knew the power of that sanctuary, the spirit in the rafters.

By the end of the day, they were going forward.

A few months after that — in those same pews in that same church — Laurence Fishburne, the esteemed actor, donned a robe and rubbed oil on his temples and preached a sermon that had the audience, made of real congregants, jumping and clapping and urging him on. He was playing the role of Rev. Henry Covington, and playing it well. But the spirit of that place, I believe, pushed the performance.

A church and the cast

And finally, 11 days ago — in those same pews of that same church — Fishburne and fellow actors Martin Landau, Bradley Whitford, Anika Noni Rose and Deanna Dunagan returned to Detroit and took part in a service of joy and music, as the congregants sang and prayed along.

Looking up, the ceiling was solid. The original hole had been fixed. A second hole — which the movie crew had bashed through — also had been fixed. It says something about a church’s resiliency, doesn’t it? Two holes, no dripping?

The church is called I Am My Brother’s Keeper ministries, on Brainard off of Trumbull. And tonight, its story and that of its amazing pastor will be shown to the nation at 9 on ABC (Channel 7 in Detroit).

I only wish Henry were here to see it. He died last December at age 53. His death carved a new hole in the church, one that can’t be fixed with plaster and shingles. It hurts every day.

He used to tease me about a movie of the book, saying, “I’m all for it, as long as they get Denzel to play me.”

Denzel Washington. Laurence Fishburne. Doesn’t matter. It’s the spirit of the man that inspires not only the film, but the real people still down at My Brother’s Keeper — Henry’s wife, his kids, his dear friends, his flock. They pray. They work. They feed the homeless who sleep on their floor.

They carry on.

I remember Henry once standing in the sanctuary, pointing up and telling his people, “Look at the hole in the roof. … It won’t be here for long.” He was right. And I guess nothing — and none of us — is really here for long.

It’s a Sunday morning story on a Sunday night. And wherever Henry is up there, I imagine he can see it.

After all, the whole thing started with a drop of rain.

Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or . Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 weekdays on WJR-AM (760).


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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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