HARLEM, Manhattan (PIX11) — Harlem is in mourning after the passing of a prominent religious and community leader.
Reverend Dr. Calvin Otis Butts III was the longtime pastor of the historic Abyssinian Baptist Church. There was a standing ovation Sunday for Butts along with sadness on the faces of many in the congregation.
“Although we are in deep mourning, Believe what Pastor Butts has taught for the last 50 years, that we have to have the courage to keep the faith,” said a speaker during Sunday service.
It’s the first service since Butts’ passing and it served as a solemn celebration of life for the late leader and senior pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church, one of the city’s most storied houses of worship. Rev. Butts was a presence both inside the church walls and in the streets of Harlem, which he helped to revitalize by raising funds to build affordable housing for existing residents.
“He built townhouses, homes, condos, affordable housing. I can go and on. It made a difference and it continues to make a difference to everyone,” said church member Elaine Perry.
The iconic pastor was known for his oratory skills. In his three decades at the pulpit, he worked with city leaders of different political views, often offering poignant words during times of racial and social turmoil.
Butts passed away Friday. He was 73 years old.
“I was baptized by him and he was more like a friend and mentor to me, more than a member of the Abyssinian Baptist Church. I will always have him within my heart. Always,” said Charnette Davis.
Rev. Butts had three children of his own and was known to dedicate a lot of his time to mentoring church members in their professional pursuits.
“I owe everything to pastor Butts. I would not be in business, in real estate, if he had not paved the way. I am so grateful,” added Perry.
Most recently, Butts helped to provide COVID-19 testing and vaccines for Harlem community, which was among the hardest hit during the pandemic.
“He was amazing, one of a kind, definitely changed my life professionally and personally,” said Timothy Nash.
Viewings are scheduled for Nov. 3 from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on Nov. 4 from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. There will also be a homegoing celebration on Nov. 4 at 2 p.m.