For the last couple of years, parishoners of the much-loved Detroit Pilgrim Church had to put up with rain and snow falling straight into the sanctuary through a hole in the roof.
But that was before two men, one a pastor and the other a bestselling author, joined forces in a pledge to get the church fixed. They drew support from strangers the world over. Now, just a few weeks after repairs began, worshippers have reason to celebrate -- this year they'll have a Christmas service in a warm, dry sanctuary.
Despite Flaws, Church Provides Shelter
While many believe a church should give worshippers a direct line to God, a gaping hole in the ceiling was probably not what the founders of Pilgrim Church had in mind when it was built in the late 1800s. It was first named the Trumbull Avenue Church.
Once the largest Presbyterian church in the Midwest, the building fell on hard times along with the surrounding neighborhood. Signs of decay showed clearly. The church, once so vital, had become a burden to its dwindling congregation.
In 1992, the Presbyterian congregation gave the building to Pilgrim Church I Am My Brother's Keeper Ministry, but keeping the crumbling church alive would prove a challenge.
"Our church was made fun of," pastor Henry Covington told "Good Morning America." "The raggedy church with the hole in the ceiling."
The hole was big enough that snow, rain and wind coming into the sanctuary made it almost unusable. There was no money to fix it.
Despite the hole in the roof, the church filled a hole in the community. It was a home to those without homes -- offering its gym to those in need of a place to sleep, its kitchen to those in need of a meal and its prayers to those in need of hope.
"If you had come here the same day that I had come here and seen this whole sanctuary empty because nobody could sit in it... over to the left was a plastic tent and people huddled with their coats on, trying to pray and stay warm," said local columnist and author of "Have a Little Faith" Mitch Albom.
The sight made an impression on Albom.
"At that point I don't think you ask what faith are they," he said. "Are they the same as me? You just see these people need help. And that's when I told Henry [Covington], 'You won't have another Christmas like that.'"
Hole in the Roof Foundation
Albom founded the Hole in the Roof Foundation, dedicated to helping faith organizations that aid the homeless. The organization's first project was the Pilgrim Church roof.
Donations started pouring in, some of it from people that would never see the church. Contributions came in from as far away as New Zealand. A church in Fontana, Calif., paid for building supplies.
"We just love to care for the poor and we think that giving back makes a difference," said pastor Danny Carroll of the Water of Life Community Church in Fontana. "It makes a difference in people's lives like this and it makes a difference in our lives."
Local contractors also pitched in. Volunteers, many of them laid-off workers, came by the dozen.
It took just two weeks of work to complete the project.
On a gray, rainy December day, Pastor Covington welcomed his congregation, their community and so many of the people who'd helped them, to a warm, dry sanctuary. Where there had been a gaping hole, there is now a brand-new roof. There is also a plaque with the names of every contributor.
"We want the people to learn brotherhood and love and the importance of caring for one another," Covington said. "Because [it's] the only way we're going to survive. We didn't do this by ourselves. We couldn't get the roof done alone. It was having that sense of community that got this thing done.