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December 23rd, 2010 by Mitch Albom

Pastor’s Second Act, and Blessed Life, Ends Too Soon

The following tribute is by best-selling author Mitch Albom in honor of our dear friend Rev. Henry Covington, who recently passed away. While you may not know him by name, Henry’s dedication to the good people of Detroit was evident in his work with I Am My Brother’s Keeper Ministry — he was their everything. While it is personal loss, the ripple effect of his absence will be felt by many. He is in our prayers, and I hope, in yours as well. 

Mitch1

Mitch Albom and Pastor Henry P. Covington

Farewell, friend. You were too young to die. I saw you just the day before. Now I won’t see you again. Not on this earth, anyhow.

Farewell, friend. We hugged at breakfast. I said “Hennnrrry,” as I usually do, and buried my head into your huge upper chest. You were dressed up. It was a big day. The sun was out in the winter sky.

Farewell, friend. If I had known it was our last meeting, the things I would have changed. We spoke as if we had forever. We talked about Christmas coming up, the programs at your church, the hungry to be fed at your shelter. We got into a car that was waiting for us, like big shots, and it drove us to a TV studio in Rockefeller Center. 

You kept looking out the windows like a little kid, you kept saying, “Wow, New York has gotten really beautiful.” You were happy. That made me happy.

Farewell, friend. I keep saying, “Why didn’t I know? Why didn’t I sense something?” But there was nothing ominous about the day. We walked into that studio together, you twice my size, the Mutt and Jeff jokes flowing. And the fuss they made over you! Everyone seemed to know you. The hosts showed pictures of your church in Detroit, the giant hole that was once in the roof, the hole through which rain and snow fell on your congregation of poor and homeless, the hole that we finally fixed, together.

Who knew there was another hole coming?

From Crime to Salvation
Farewell, friend. You were a big man with a big story, big enough for two lives. The first life lasted 30 years. It began with poverty, a mother behind bars, a neighborhood full of trouble. It ended one night in Brooklyn — after years of crime, arrests and addiction — when you lay hiding behind a row of trash cans, holding a shotgun, preparing for your death.

“Save me, Jesus,” you whispered. “Save me tonight, and I’m yours tomorrow.”

You were saved that night, saved from the drug dealers out for revenge, and saved from the spiral of an empty, wasted life. Your soul began its comeback. You got clean. Stayed clean. And you kept your promise. You gave the Lord not only your devotion, but your days.

You became a churchgoer, a student, an elder, a deacon and finally, years later, Pastor Henry Covington, taking over an old, decaying church on Trumbull in Detroit. “It’s too big,” they told you. “And look at that hole in the roof!”

But you had faith. You built a ministry, one soul at a time. You called it I Am My Brother’s Keeper. You drove around Detroit’s worst neighborhoods with food on the hood of your car. You honked so that the homeless would emerge from abandoned buildings. You told those hungry people, “God loves you.”

Because you had felt that love yourself.

You never hid your past. You used your mistakes to understand others. You had been a boxer and as a pastor you fought all doubt. You ministered in your sanctuary and sometimes across the street, sitting on an old stone wall, because, as you said, “Some people just aren’t ready to come inside.”

You went where souls were broken.

Farewell, friend.

Who Continues the Mission?
We were as different as it gets. Different faiths, different skin color. I could fit under one of your massive arms. But we called each other “friend,” we built together, served together, did a book together, called “Have a Little Faith,” and, boy, do I need some faith now, because, Henry, I adored you. I never saw you so happy as that last day, Monday, in New York, back in your hometown. We walked to the famous skating rink and took a photo, and on the way to the airport, you asked if you could stay another day. You wanted to visit family you hadn’t seen in years. It was the holidays. You felt nostalgic.

We changed your ticket. You got a hotel room. And after a long day and night of seeing old faces, you went to sleep there.

And you died there.

Perhaps your heart could no longer carry the weight. Your second life ended after 23 years, 53 years total. Too short, Henry. We were just together. I felt your cheek against mine. Now what? What happens to your beloved church? How do the poor and homeless survive?

Farwell, friend. I know you’d say you are in a better place, but my grief is matched only by a terrible, aching emptiness. I am doubled over, as if kicked in the stomach.

We fixed a hole together. How do we fix this?

Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Donations can be made online at www.iammybrotherskeeper-pc.org or through the mail at Pilgrim Church, 1435 Brainard St., Detroit 48208.

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24 Responses to “Pastor’s Second Act, and Blessed Life, Ends Too Soon”

  1. Diane E French says:

    I don’t know either of you but this very touching tribute bought tears to my eyes. Thank you for introducing me to Pastor Henry P Covington!

  2. Andrea Senft says:

    Good Bless you. I believe that you will be sending love from above to your followers at I am your brothers keeper. I LOVED the book “have a little faith’ and have given 20 copies to friends as gifts.
    The world lost a angel and heaven gained one.

  3. Mindi Allen says:

    I didn’t know much about his latest book, but I love Mitch Albom books so I bought it. In it, through Mr Albom, I got to know Henry. It doesn’t matter what religion you are, this book was truly amazing.

  4. Carol Bodish says:

    I read Mitch Albom’s book that told about Henry Covington’s life, and the news of his death is so sad. He did such great things in such a humble & simple way, after such a rough start in life. My heartfelt sympathies for the family and friends left behind, as I know the shock & hurt from the unexpected loss of a loved one. I hope they are comforted by the knowledge that he did so much in his time, and affected so many people from all over, I’m sure his story has inspired so many others, and lifted them up and perhaps closer to God. That would be a good measure of success as a man, in my mind.

  5. Sandrayhwh says:

    It is my hope that Mitch Albom finds some comfort in these words, and to all those that have lost loved ones way too soon.
    As it seems that at this time of year many are focused on Jesus and his birth, take the time to consider why Jesus came to the earth and the many promises and miracles he performed, particularily the resurrection.

    THE Bible holds out a hope for those who have died. The resurrections performed by Jesus, as well as his teachings, point to a time when the dead will be brought back to life. (Matthew 22:23-33; Mark 5:35, 36, 41, 42; Luke 7:12-16) How should this hope affect us? this hope can prove comforting when a loved one dies.
    If you have lost a loved one in death, you have no doubt felt the emotional pain that accompanies such a tragedy.
    The example of Jesus Christ and how he was effected by the death of his close friend Lazarus teaches us so many lessons, please take the time to read the account yourself in your bible, Luke chapter 11. this is just a brief overview.
    Christ revealed some of his most tender feelings when his dear friend Lazarus died. He was so deeply moved by Mary and Martha’s anguish that he could not restrain a grief-stricken groan, and he “gave way to tears.” He “became troubled”—agitated by great heartache and sorrow—even though he knew that he was shortly going to bring Lazarus back to life. Then, moved by love and compassion, Jesus exercised his God-given authority and raised Lazarus from the dead.—John 11:11-15, 33-35, 38-44.

    Why We Mourn
    It was never God’s purpose for mankind to die. Gods original purpose, as expressed to Adam and Eve, was for the earth to be transformed into a beautiful paradise filled with a loving, happy family. Death would come only if that first couple chose to disobey him. (Genesis 1:28; 2:17) Sadly, Adam and Eve did disobey, and because of disobedience, “death spread to all men.” (Romans 5:12; 6:23) Death is thus a cruel enemy that was never meant to be.—1 Corinthians 15:26.
    It is only reasonable, then, that the unnatural event of the death of someone close sparks deep emotional pain for those it touches. It creates an enormous vacuum in our lives. The death of a young person particularly pains us because of the tragedy of a life not fully lived such as Henry Covington.- Isaiah 38:10.
    Yes, death is unnatural. The pain that it spawns is to be expected.
    Nevertheless, while we as Christians certainly do grieve because of death, we do not sorrow “as the rest also do who have no hope.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13) We do not indulge in unreasonable extremes of grieving because we are not confused as to the condition of the dead. We know that they are not in pain or distress but in a condition like a deep, peaceful sleep. (Ecclesiastes 9:5; Mark 5:39; John 11:11-14) We also have full confidence that Jesus, “the resurrection and the life,” will act on his promise to bring back “all those in the memorial tombs.”—John 5:28, 29; 11:24, 25.
    Therefore, if you are grieving at this time, take comfort from the knowledge that God understands your pain. May this knowledge and your hope in the resurrection temper your grief and help you to cope with your loss
    1corinthians 15:26 26 “As the last enemy, death is to be brought to nothing”

  6. Alice Stephenson says:

    In Memory of Reverend Henry P. Covington w/healing prayers for Mitch Albom and all who were blessed to know Rev. Covington… I use to want to be a minister & often pray for persons online and I’m not the only one who prays for the persons behind the words we see online. So often only by the grace of God do I get done what I need to do (as even today) so those WILL DO to honor Rev. Henry P. Covington… continuing his work with “I Am My Brother’s Keeper.” May we grace Rev. Henry P. Covington’s memory by the Grace of God. With sincere condolences, Your sister in Christ, Alice.

    GOD PLEASE REPLY
    Prayed by me

    If ever you reach out in word
    And feel like no one heard
    To me each message that I see
    Are like prayers rising up to Thee

    After you left with all your tears
    Combined with all your haunting fears
    People stopped to read words you left
    Sending prayers for you to be blessed

    Parting prayers prayed to help you some
    So you feel uplifted when here you come
    And when no one knows what to say
    Now and then know for you many pray

    Thus if after you bare your soul
    You feel no one heard… not one soul
    I wanted you to know I stopped by
    Said a prayer for you signed please reply

  7. jennifer says:

    I have never heard of Pastor Henry P. Covington. But that was a very touching tribute. I can relate to his story a little bit anyway. I to was a big person. 44 weeks ago I was 380 lbs. Laying in bed practicly dying. My husband had to get me out of bed every day. Now I’ve lost 151 lbs. This man I’ve never meet just gave me more will power to continue in my weight lose journey because I don’t want to die that way. I was having a bad week. I only lost 1 lb this week. Now i feel like I can keep going. As I still have approx 60 lbs to go. Again touching tribute.

  8. Chris Nelsen says:

    Pastor Henry P. Covington, your dear wonderful friend, His brother’s keeper, lived a powerful life… obeying and glorifying God as a wonderful and obedient servant of our Lord God–a son who followed His Father’s call with his whole heart and life on earth! When the Lord God called him home, people on earth might have said your friend “died” BUT Christians KNOW he didn’t die…your friend was promoted to eternal life, celebrating his Lord and Savior the Father! Your friend was rewarded with eternal life……no more sickness, no more pain, no more concern for earthly trials…but rather a time of joy and celebration!
    Our Lord Jesus told the sinner on the cross beside Him at the hour of His earthly death “TODAY you will be in Heaven.” At once at our death we who are the Lord’s children go to be with the Lord in heaven. Those aren’t my words. Jesus didn’t say to the man who was dieing beside him ’someday you might get to heaven’, the Son of God told him “I will tell you the truth, TODAY you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43 Jesus was just as clear as can be, so have joy in your heart KNOWING you haven’t lost your friend! One day the Lord will call you home and you will be with your brother and the Lord forever! Not someday–that day, the hour of your death. How incredibly wonderful beyond description that will be !!!
    Picture in your mind’s eye, your favorite Pastor and friend standing before the throne of God , cellebrating Our Lord God Almighty, free forever of worry or sickness or death! No more earthly concerns (gunk) to be bothered with. And Smile and Celebrate in your heart and mind! I do the same when I start to feel the loss of my incredibly wonderful Mom as I instantly know she is not lost…she is with the Lord! Happy, celebrating, singing songs of praise and I will one day be there too! The Lord turns sorrow to celebration!
    Dear brother….our Christian brothers and sisters or parents or children or friends are NEVER lost to us! They are freed from the struggles and trials of life’s burdens! It was your friend’s time to graduate, to be free of this world so he could celebrate the Lord God up close and personal ! He was promoted, rewarded, and showered in love and joy in return for the caring, unselfish, wonderful life he led as a good and faithful servant of our Lord God! And his good friend, YOU, are going to know the joy and freedome and love without condition that your dear Pastor knows now! Life is great…it is eternal…with the Lord…surrounded by heavenly host….!!!

  9. mona johnson says:

    i used to be homeless am not currently, my prayers go out to this man and anyone who goes through this we don’t know what God has in store for us. We have to do what we can for those who still suffer.

  10. Sandrayhwh says:

    A Global Problem, a Global Solution
    SUFFERING is seen everywhere, and many are those who respond to it compassionately. Medical personnel, for example, work long shifts in hospitals to help those who are ill or injured. Firefighters, police, lawmakers, and rescue personnel strive to alleviate or prevent the suffering of others. Such efforts do much to help people on a personal level, but it is beyond the reach of any individual or organization to eliminate suffering earth wide. In contrast, God can and will bring about a global solution.
    Assurance is found in the last book of the Bible: “[God] will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4) Consider the scope of that promise. It summarizes God’s purpose to bring an end to all suffering. He will do that by ridding the earth of war, hunger, sickness, and injustice, along with all the wicked people. No human can accomplish that.
    What God’s Kingdom Will Do
    God will fulfill his promises through the second most powerful person in the universe—the resurrected Jesus Christ. The time is coming when Jesus will rule unopposed as King over the entire earth. Mankind will no longer be governed by human kings, presidents, or politicians. Instead, they will be ruled by one King and one government—the Kingdom of God.
    That Kingdom will do away with every human government. Long ago, the Bible foretold: “The God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be brought to ruin. And the kingdom itself will not be passed on to any other people. It will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, and it itself will stand to times indefinite.” (Daniel 2:44) Peoples of all the earth will be united under one righteous government—God’s Kingdom.
    When he was on earth as a man, Jesus spoke on many occasions about that Kingdom. He referred to it in the model prayer, instructing his disciples to pray in this way: “Let your kingdom come. Let your will take place, as in heaven, also upon earth.” (Matthew 6:10) Notice that Jesus indicated that the Kingdom is linked to God’s will being done on the earth, and it is God’s will to eliminate suffering earth wide.
    God’s righteous government will bring blessings that no human government ever could. Recall that God gave his Son as a ransom so that humans might receive everlasting life. Under the benevolent rulership of the Kingdom, people will progress to perfection. The result? God “will actually swallow up death forever, and the Sovereign Lord Jehovah will certainly wipe the tears from all faces.”—Isaiah 25:8.
    Some might ask: ‘Why has God not acted before now? What is he waiting for?’ he could have acted long ago to eliminate or even prevent all suffering. Instead, he has allowed it to continue, not for any selfish reason, but for the everlasting benefit of his children on earth. Loving parents will allow their child to undergo hardships if they know that this will bring long-term benefits. Similarly, there are good reasons why God has allowed humans to suffer temporarily, and these reasons are explained in the Bible. They involve such things as free will, sin, and an issue concerning the rightfulness of Jehovah’s rulership. The Bible also explains that, for a limited time, an evil spirit creature has been allowed to rule the world.
    Though space limits our discussing those reasons here, there are two facts that can give us hope and encouragement. The first is this: God will more than make up for any suffering we may have experienced. Moreover, God assures us: “The former things will not be called to mind, neither will they come up into the heart.” (Isaiah 65:17) God will undo, completely and permanently, the misery and suffering resulting from the temporary permission of evil.
    The second fact is this: God has set an unalterable time to end suffering. Recall that the prophet Habakkuk asked how long Jehovah would permit violence and strife. he replied: “The vision is yet for the appointed time . . . It will not be late.” (Habakkuk 2:3)

  11. FosterBoys says:

    I’m so sorry about the loss of your friend. That was a beautiful tribute.

  12. Anna says:

    Hi.
    I just saw one of your programme on tv here in Sweden.
    It was about a family that had a problem with their daughter, Kathrine. I think she was bipolar…
    I tried to find on your homepage, about mental sickness, but I didnt find it.
    My question is, can you write down the link here, or send it to my mail?
    Sorry for my bad english, I hope you understand anyway :P =)
    Best regards /Anna

  13. Cheryl says:

    Mitch this was a wonderful dedication. I knew Pastor Covington as well and your right his heart was so big and full of love- what a true disciple of Christ as he was as he should love toward others. He was such a gentle soul, he will be missed.

  14. Donna Green says:

    I remember the story on television about Pastor Covington and the hole in the roof of the church. I was so sorry to read this story and learn of his passing. I truly hope people will understand that being over weight is just not healthy. This is a man who did not forget where he came from and reached out to others, I know God will be pleased with his work here on earth, but so much more he could have given…God bless his soul and the love ones that he left behind, in his ministry and his family.

  15. Karen says:

    How blessed was he to lie down and go to sleep in the LORD…calm, peaceful. He truly walked as Jesus walked. May we do the same.

  16. God will fulfill his promises through the second most powerful person in the universe—the resurrected Jesus Christ. The time is coming when Jesus will rule unopposed as King over the entire earth. Mankind will no longer be governed by human kings, presidents, or politicians. Instead, they will be ruled by one King and one government—the Kingdom of God.

  17. Hannah says:

    Regretfully, I never knew Pastor Covington, but his life on earth speaks volumes. I am sure that as he entered into eternity and stood at God’s Throne, he received the confirmation for which he had waited, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

  18. pfff.. :( I’m so sorry about the loss of your friend …. .
    Best wishes …

  19. Lynell Weller says:

    O wow……what a story. It moved me and made me cry…..just to think that he stayed one day longer to visit family and friends…..maybe he knew or had a feeling that he should do this now or he will never be able too do it….i have thought and done things on gut feelings also….only to be glad i did it, due to a death of a family member and friends. Life is to be live to the fullest and enjoyed on a daily basic….because we just don’t know when it will end. May you rest in peace Pastor Covington and tell God Hi for me.

  20. charlene from new zealand says:

    i just cannot believe the pastor has gone. i loved his honest and truthful advice. he didnt hold back, like Dr Phil giving you the answers you need to hear. amazing man, i didnt know of his background and it proves again we have choices in our lives. some people will never know that type of adversity, to get out of it and break the cycle is such strength. i myself have been through an abusive type of childhood where i had to grow up sooner than most of my friends. i too made a choice not to repeat the cycle. thank you to the pastor for his voice while it was being heard, am very said we wont hear more, and thanks to Dr Phil for noticing the pastor had lots to offer to the world…

  21. CATHERINE KARSNICK says:

    I JUST HAPPENED UPON THIS STORY OF THE DEATH OF THE PASTOR. I AM SHOCKED AND SADDENED. I AM A FORMER DETROITER AND I FOLLOWED THE ARTICLES OF MITCH ALBOM OF THE DEAR PASTOR’S RUNDOWN CHURCH IN DETROIT. IT BROUGHT ME TO TEARS. AGAIN AS I READ OF ALL THE PEOPLE WHO CAME TOGETHER TO FIX THE ROOF OF THAT RUNDOWN CHURCH, I WAS BROUGHT TO TEARS. I THOUGHT GOD IS GOOD. THERE ARE STILL CARING PEOPLE IN THIS WORLD. BUT THIS MOVING TRIBUTE TO PASTOR COVINGTON IS MORE THAN I CAN FATHOM. THESE WERE TRULY THE WORDS OF A DEAR DEAR FRIEND. REST IN PEACE DEAR PASTOR COVINGTON, YOUR WORK IS DONE HERE ON EARTH.

  22. Linda MacIver says:

    I only happened upon this article tonight, and I am saddened by Pastor Covington’s passing. Have A Little Faith was a book I devoured in about two days. Thank you Mitch Albom for writing about this great man and sharing it with the world.

  23. Cliff Yvon says:

    It’s a real shame to lose Rev. Henry Covington so soon. He’ll truly be missed. I’m so grateful he was able to turn his life around and help so many others do the same. RIP Rev Covington.

    Mitch is an excellent writer and quality human being too. All of his books are superb.

  24. Jean says:

    I am a proud fan of Mitch Albom and this piece has just been another favorite of mine. Such a touching and moving tribute story to a good friend.

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