Faith and change go hand in hand, Mitch Albom tells faith communicators
by Ryan Miller
CHICAGO (RCCongress2010), April 7 — When it comes to faith, Mitch Albom believes in the power to change.
Opening the Religion Communication Congress 2010 in Chicago, an April 7-10 gathering of communication professionals from a spectrum of religions and denominations, the sports journalist and best-selling author laced together two stories of faithful change.
The first: Albom's own eight-year process of returning to religion while preparing to preach the eulogy of his childhood rabbi. The second: the story of Henry Covington, a drug-dealer-turned-pastor ministering to the indigent, poor and homeless of Detroit.
Covington's transformation was dramatic – a night of conversion while hiding behind a row of trash cans in fear of dealers seeking revenge. Albom's own change was more gradual – from an apathetic view of faith to an understanding of belief as a journey.
"It's the choosing to have faith in that what you cannot see, the choosing to pray and believe in something beyond your reach – that makes faith the incredible, sometimes maddening, but ultimately so rewarding journey that it is," he said.
Albom drifted away from his childhood faith until his rabbi, Albert Lewis, changed his life with a question: "Will you do my eulogy?" Eight years of conversation about life and faith, of heaven, history and happiness, ensued. Lewis told of his own journey, of interreligious reconciliation with a neighboring Catholic priest, and of his anguish after the death of his 4-year-old daughter. Albom said this righteous rabbi, recounting his life, refused to place himself above the lapsed journalist.
You, Lewis told Albom, are a man of God too. Everyone is.
"If we truly believed that, we would have to treat each other better. We would have to, because we would see everybody the same," Albom said.
It took time for Albom to see Covington in the same way.
"Let's be honest with each other at a convention like this. We don't trust different – not when it comes to religion," Albom said.
Covington was different.
Albom was not sure he could trust a man who once said he likely would go to hell for his past misdeeds – including breaking all 10 commandments. But Covington's ministry feeding the hungry and embracing the addicts at Detroit's I Am My Brother's Keeper – Pilgrim Church was his way of adding some good to the bad of his past, all done in a 130-year-old church building with – until recently – a hole in the roof.
Albom called Covington the rarest of things: a changed man. He welcomes everyone – even Albom, who became the first official Jewish member of Covington's church.
"I believe, like 'The Reb,'" Albom said, "God sings and we all hum along, and there are many melodies but it's all one song."
Ken Medema, Jorge Lockward and Christopher Heckert led congress participants in a closing song, asking the audience to hum strains from Pachelbel's Canon in D Major to back Medema's vocals.
Susan Sparks, Azhar Usman, Bob Alper
Photos by David Skidmore
Multi-faith comedy team Susan Sparks, Azhar Usman and Bob Alper – an American Baptist Church pastor, Muslim lawyer and ordained rabbi, respectively – also performed. Alper said, "When people laugh together from all different backgrounds, they can't hate each other."
Albom, a sports journalist in print, radio and television, is the author of books that have sold more than 28 million copies worldwide, including Tuesdays with Morrie and Have a Little Faith. He has founded three charities in metropolitan Detroit: The Dream Fund, A Time to Help, and S.A.Y. Detroit.
Ryan Miller is editorial director, Mennonite Mission Network
Media Contact: Lesley Crosson, RCCongress2010, 347-513-4030