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At the church he loved in life, those who loved congressman Elijah Cummings will say goodbye in death

At the church he loved in life, those who loved congressman Elijah Cummings will say goodbye in death

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., speaks at the Southern Baptist Church with pastor Donte L. Hickman Sr., (not pictured) two days after Baltimore authorities released a report on the death of Freddie Gray on May 3, 2015, in Baltimore, Maryland. | Getty Images/Patrick Smith

For nearly 40 years, the late Democratic congressman from Maryland, Elijah E. Cummings, worshiped at the New Psalmist Baptist Church in Baltimore. And his longtime pastor, Bishop Walter Thomas, says he could always count on him “being in church” as long as he wasn’t working elsewhere.

“I could count on Elijah being in church,” Thomas told The Baltimore Sun Thursday in the wake of the congressman’s sudden death.

Even as the congressman battled longstanding health problems which he succumbed to at approximately 2:45 a.m. Thursday, Thomas said Cummings worked hard to show up, regularly attending “the crack-of-dawn service” at 7:15 a.m. on Sundays where he would sit in the front row.

“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 told the publication.

And that’s why, when Thomas got news that Cummings had died on Thursday, he felt like he had fallen into a hole that he couldn’t climb out of as he thought of his regular Sunday morning worshiper.

“That’s the first thing that came to me in the morning, and I dropped. My spirit dropped as if in a hole that I thought I would not come out of,” Thomas recalled in an interview with CBS' affiliate in Baltimore.

Cummings, he said, was a friend who “to remember him is to remember a giant.”

House Oversight ant Reform Chairman Rep. Elijah Cummings speaks at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on August 7, 2019. | Win McNamee/Getty Images

As plans are being made for the world to formally say farewell to Cummings, Thomas told The Baltimore Sun that he expects the funeral service to celebrate the life of the late “Brother Elijah Cummings” will be at New Psalmist’s 4,000-seat sanctuary with his spiritual family that he loved.

“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.”

Former Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., who retired from Congress in 2018, was among many politicians from both sides of the aisle who shared warm words about Cummings, 68, in the wake of his death. Gowdy noted that Cummings was leaving behind a strong legacy of faith despite rarely agreeing with the late congressman on politics.

“Elijah Cummings was one of the most powerful, beautiful & compelling voices in American politics. The power and the beauty came from his authenticity, his conviction, the sincerity with which he held his beliefs. We rarely agreed on political matters,” Gowdy said in a series of tweets Thursday.

“We never had a cross word outside of a committee room. He had a unique ability to separate the personal from the work. The story of Elijah's life would benefit everyone, regardless of political ideation,” he continued.

“It is true Elijah was a proud progressive with a booming, melodious voice who found himself in the middle of most major political stories over the past decade. It is inescapable that be part of his legacy. … His legacy to me, above all else, was his faith. A faith in God that is being rewarded today with no more fights, no more battles, and no more pain,” Gowdy ended.