By Imam Dr. Al-Hajj Talib ‘Abdur-Rashid, Senior Imam The Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood Inc.
Prior to viewing the remains of Rev. Dr. Calvin O. Butts III, I last visited the Abyssinian Baptist Church—Harlem’s historic house of Christian worship—approximately three months before the COVID-19 pandemic struck New York. I was among the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders of A Partnership of Faith, who had gathered at Abyssinian for an interfaith service commemorating the 1619-2019 struggle of Americans of African descent against 400 years of oppression.
Joined by worshippers of different faiths and ethnicities from around the city, we stood together as voices of conscience, reflecting the lessons of an American past both known and unknown to many Americans. The gathering was somber and reverent, filled with homily, music, and reflection. The height of the service was a powerful, inspirational sermon delivered by Rev. Butts in his eloquent, erudite, and intense style, sprinkled with humor.
With conviction, love, and compassion, Rev. Butts challenged people of faith to transform New York City for the better in service to the Almighty God and humanity. It was a shining moment amongst many during a ministerial career of distinction that spanned decades. At its conclusion, Rev. Dr. Butts, Rev. Stephen Bauman of Christ Church, Rabbi Josh Davidson of Temple Emanuel, and I locked arms in faith, hope, and solidarity. At the center of that powerful, New York City image stood Rev. Butts. It was the last time I saw him alive, in person.
To this day I am comforted by the knowledge that my brother, friend, and colleague and I shared pulpits several times in service to the God of mercy, kindness, and compassion—Who, on the Judgement Day, will weigh every atom’s weight of good and evil of our individual, earthly lives. Our hope for eternal salvation rests with Him.
On behalf of the Harlem Congregations for Community Improvement, Inc. (“HCCI”) and its coalition of Houses of Worship we remember the Reverend Dr. Calvin O. Butts, III, as steward of our beloved community of Harlem. He was our brother faith-leader, a civil rights advocate, a teacher, and respected brother of our fraternities, as well as a former Board member of HCCI. His loss will have a profound impact on the work of revitalization and the spiritual health of our communities. We remember the sage words illustrative of Rev. Dr. Butts’s love and commitment to all of humanity, and particularly, of our community. “Education and faith are the Tigris and the Euphrates of our liberation: twin rivers at the source of our redemption.” –The Reverend Dr. Calvin O. Butts, III.
Dr. Malcolm A. Punter President & CEO Harlem Congregations for Community Improvement, Inc. (HCCI)