The celebration of life in honor of Reverend Dr. Calvin O. Butts III was held at Abyssinian Church and drew dignitaries, admirers and parishioners to pay final tribute to a life of service well lived.
Reverend Butts served as pastor of the renowned Abyssinian Baptist Church in the city of New York for over 30 years. He was also president of the State University of New York College at Old Westbury for two decades until retiring in 2020.
Reverend Butts was influenced and was acquainted with a variety of people from all walks of life including politicians, clergy, activists, civil rights leaders and others. His homegoing service was held on November 4.
Former United States President Bill Clinton attended and spoke during the service. “I talked to Reverend Butts not long before he passed. We had been friends a long time. I came here seeking his support and I didn’t get it the first time, and then when I won, he said ‘You know you have to remember this is an active church and I have an active faith. The Book of James says that faith is fine but without work it’s dead, so I will know your faith by your works,” said Mr. Clinton.
“The power of his living example, he demonstrated his faith by his wonderful words from this sacred pulpit but also by his works.”
Rev. Butts was an anti-poverty advocate and fought against racism as pastor of Harlem’s historic Abyssinian Baptist Church, he passed on October 28 at age 73. He worked with political leaders who were Democrats and Republicans.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) stated Rev. Butts left a positive, indelible impact on those he encountered. Senator Schumer also told attendees that throughout his career, he relied on Dr. Butts as a source of counsel and spiritual guidance. “He always told the truth in a very special way, a profound and brilliant way.
Those were not just words he spoke when he spoke the truth, they were not just blunt instruments, they were carefully crafted thoughts wrapped in both passion and compassion. He spoke the truth to power, with the rare consistency of moral clarity that is a testament to the man he was,” said Senator Schumer.
The service was high-spirited and full of positive energy as speakers paid tribute and shared reflections on the life and legacy of Rev. Butts. At one point, as many as 1,000 people lined up outside the church to wait for a turn to pay their respects.
New York Governor, Kathy Hochul also shared a brief statement during the service. “The very first church I came to literally just days after I became the governor of the state of New York, I came here because I knew that this place was so steeped in history, a place where people created leaders, elected leaders, spiritual leaders, community leaders was always in this church,” she said. “As a governor, I needed the spiritual blessing of Reverend Dr. Calvin Butts,” said Gov. Hochul.
New York Mayor Eric Adams, stated, “We all have an expiration date, we all going to reach a moment when we’re going to transform from the physical into the spiritual. I love Dr. Butts and I’m going to miss him. There’s a hole in my heart that I don’t think is going to heal for a long time,” said Mayor Adams.
Not long after the passing of Dr. Butts was announced, Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan, who was a friend of Rev. Butts, released a statement that he lost a great brother and friend.
“I have known him since he graduated from Morehouse College, and we became friends. My last talk with him was a few weeks ago and spiritually we always met on common ground. I shall miss him as my brother and friend and I pray that Allah’s (God’s) Peace will be with his family, his congregation and his friends. His was a job well done and a life of service well lived. I shall keep him in my heart until Allah (God) calls me in. Peace Be Unto You All,” the Minister’s statement, published in The Final Call, stated in part.
Rev. Butts is survived by his wife, Patricia, three children and six grandchildren. One of his grandsons shared poignant words about his beloved grandfather. “He gave so much and for someone who gave so much, you must think to yourself, when will he rest? When will he get, not give? Although we are in a mourning time, I must, I am comforted by the fact that I know he is at rest,” said grandson Calvin Otis Butts V.
Reverend Carl Washington, pastor of New Mount Zion Baptist Church in Harlem stated that with all Rev. Butts did, he also made sure he participated in the things in the community that many preachers of his stature would never participate in. “We thank God for him, and for the life he lived,” said Rev. Washington. —Shawntell Muhammad, Contributing Writer