THE LATEST: The funeral for Rep. Elijah Cummings will be held Oct. 25 at New Pslamist Baptist Church.
Rep. Elijah Cummings practiced his faith the same way he practiced his politics, according to his pastor: Steadfastly and always in the front row.
Even as the late congressman’s health declined and he fought intense battles against President Donald Trump, Cummings regularly attended New Psalmist Baptist Church, said Bishop Walter Thomas, longtime pastor of the West Baltimore church.
“If he was in his chair, he was there. If he was walking, he was there. He was still up front. He was not a back-seat person," Thomas said in an interview Thursday.
Thomas said he spent time with Cummings after the congressman was transferred into hospice care.
“He was such an amazing person. ... His mind was sharp until the moment that God called him home,” Thomas said.
Thomas said Cummings “was aware of all that he’d accomplished in life.”
Cummings died at about 2:45 a.m. Thursday while a patient of Gilchrist Hospice Care. The Democratic congressman from Baltimore was 68.
Funeral plans were incomplete Thursday, but Thomas said he expects services to be held in New Psalmist’s 4,000-seat sanctuary. He predicted the church would be overflowing.
Cummings was a member of the church for nearly 40 years, regularly attending the “the crack-of-dawn service” at 7:15 a.m. on Sundays whenever he didn’t have a speaking engagement elsewhere. He usually sat in the same seat in the front row.
“I could count on Elijah being in church,” Thomas said.
Cummings was a well-respected member of the church, but not because of his status as a politician.
“He’s the congressman, but to members, he is Brother Elijah Cummings. ... He’s one of us,” Thomas said. “He sits in Congress. He has major concerns and issues he has to solve in the world, Monday through Friday, and he sits beside them on Sunday morning. He seeks the same place to be fed as they do. To them, he is their brother in Christ.”
When the bishop preached, Cummings was a keen listener.
“He could remember [my] sermons better than I could,” Thomas said. “We talked on the regular. He’d quote them back to me, telling me later on in the week or the next week how a sermon spoke to him.”
Thomas said Cummings learned his faith from his parents Robert Cummings Sr. and Ruth Elma Cummings who were sharecroppers on land where their ancestors were enslaved before moving to Baltimore in the late 1940s.
“They instilled in him early a sense of faith, of godliness, of Christian virtues and values. But above all, a connection to God,” Thomas said. “He did not serve God as one who did not know Him. His life was an extension of knowing God.”
The staff at New Psalmist was grieving Thursday as they fielded interview requests from reporters.
“For all who pass through these doors, it has been very somber,” Thomas said. "We’ve lost a friend, a loved one, a member, a role model. You can roll out the whole list of nouns. He steps into all of them with big shoes.”