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Who’s Your Tiger?

MitchTen 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 it 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 and falling out."

There was no stopping the rot. It grew bigger than a man. Bigger than a horse. It became known simply as "the hole in the roof," a symbol of decay in the once-grand Trumbull Street Presbyterian Church in Detroit, 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 Keep 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 the homeless. They sleep on the gym floor. During the winter, it gets bone-chillingly cold. But there hasn't been money to heat the sanctuary, because the heat goes up and out through that hole in the roof.

All that is about to change.

Time to celebrate

I wrote about this church in my recent 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 its sanctuary, just to have someplace dry and semi-warm to pray on Sundays, even as rain and snow soaked the pews and the carpet.

And a funny thing happened.

Despite the worst economic crisis in 75 years, despite every reason to turn inward and say, "Sorry, can't help you, I have to take care of myself," people heard of the hole in the roof and were moved.

Some were moved to come serve food to the homeless. Some were moved to send a dollar. Or five dollars. 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 started on Twitter called "Shingle Bells," the goal being to purchase enough shingles to secure a dry Christmas season for the congregation.

And thanks to that generosity, from school kids, grandmothers, people of all faiths, yesterday, at 9 a.m., a roofing crew arrived, and was greeted by some of the most relieved and enthusiastic church members you'll ever see.

And the hole began to disappear.

A time to work

"If you're willing to stand on faith, even when things seem like they're not going to happen," Covington says, gratefully, "then sometimes those things happen."

His congregation slept in the church Sunday night -- just in anticipation of this small miracle -- and yesterday morning, after a served breakfast, the folks welcomed the trucks and helped unload the wood, shingles and nails that are the by-product of nothing but good will towards men.

And in this way, the crumbling church that was once theirs alone became partly attached to many others around the globe -- the hundreds who donated to repair it. Each of those people has a shingle, a piece of flashing, a nail, a beam.

And in a few weeks, when the job is done, a plaque with the name of every one of those people 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. For the first time in years, his Christmas season at the church will be dry and safe and warm. Someone recently gave me a small stone to put in the roof. It read "Miracles Happen." I believe that's true. But 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.

(C) 2009 BY THE DETROIT FREE PRESS DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

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