Unity Build, Week 1

“When you get here, you pick up a hammer and you go to work. And you start with a prayer, the best way to start anything.” – Suzanne Wooderson of John Calvin Presbyterian Church

Two years ago, Household of Faith and Trinity Episcopal joined forces to build the home of Ashely Kottemann, and a partnership between the two churches was born. This year, they have returned to the build site to build another home (for Nicole Pujol), but this time, nine other congregations are joining them.

“Trinity and Household of Faith teamed up two years ago,” said Bill Wright of Trinity Episcopal. “We built a house together, and we wanted to build on that with other congregations. We reached out to other community and church groups and put together a unified front, and now we’re doing another blitz build.”

The eleven congregations working on the build are Household of Faith, Trinity Episcopal Church, St. Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church, St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church, Temple Sinai, Rayne Memorial United Methodist Church, The Sixth Baptist Church, John Calvin Presbyterian Church, Lakeview Presbyterian Church, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, and First Baptist New Orleans. For the wall raising ceremony, each of the congregations came out to kick things off, and each day, volunteers come from multiple congregations to work together on the home.

“It’s about finding good fellowship and the things we have in common, like wanting our community to be strong together,” said Pastor Antoine Barriere of Household of Faith. “It’s just what we ought to be doing.”

“It’s been encouraging,” said Che Troquille of First Baptist New Orleans. “I didn’t realize we were gonna be building with other denominations, so it’s been good. I get a chance to work with other brothers and sisters from all over.”

Among those helping to lead the build are St. Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church, whose RHINO program has been a major partner of NOAHH since Hurricane Katrina, and First Baptist New Orleans, another congregation volunteering on site, who also had a history with NOAHH, having helped significantly in Musicians’ Village.

“After Hurricane Katrina, our church in partnership with Habitat did the Musicians’ Village, and a bunch of our church members volunteered on that,” said Che Troquille of First Baptist New Orleans. “I was involved with that, too. It was a great way to help New Orleans get back on its feet after the storm.”

“We want to continue that tradition,” said Frank Cannon of First Baptist New Orleans. “Very simply: whatsoever ou do for the least of my brothers, you do for me.”

Other churches, like the Sixth Baptist Church, had congregants who were Habitat homeowners, giving them an understanding of the Habitat program and its impact.

“At the Sixth Baptist, we have a few congregants who have benefited from Habitat,” said Glenda Spears of the Sixth Baptist Church. “They are Habitat homeowners. Our pastor Dr. Sanders teaches us about social justice, so we jhave a lot of community engagement projects. When we heard about this, we thought what better way for our church to get together with other congregations and actually do something in the community that would have a lasting effect.”

Other groups had a history of service work outside of New Orleans.

“We’ve done a few mission trips around the country and a few to South America, too,” said Jeff Ruther of Rayne Memorial United Methodist Church. “It seemed like a good fit for our congregation to join Unity Build. For me, I feel blessed. So many people have always helped me out over the years, mentoring or teaching me different things. This is just to give back a little bit.”

The first day of the build saw the walls and trusses go up, with members of every congregation and Nicole present for the opening ceremony.

“It’s pretty neat,” said Graham Swift of St. Paul’s Episcopal. “It’s interesting to see how everybody can come together to do it that quickly to get the walls up.”

“It just had the outer frame and the inside, so now we have to put up the outer boards and nail all of it up,” said Leola Reed of Household of Faith. “It’s coming along. They say it will take a few weeks, but at the rate we’re going, I give it a week.”

“I’ve always heard that building a Habitat house, it’s amazing how quickly it goes up,” said Sarah Chancellor-Watson of St. Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church. “It’s amazing ot actually see that. It goes up SO FAST. It’s incredible when we started up, there were no walls. We’re now breaking for lunch and we have walls, and everything’s framed out. It was nothing, and now it’s really becoming something.”

“I would rather be out here many times because you can see the accomplishment of your work,” said Pastor Barriere. “In three hours, we got the walls up. It feels good. It looks good. Sometimes you sit in the office for five hours, and you don’t see anything done. But you can see that all our efforts here are making a difference really quickly.”

The congregations are not only building the home, but handling many of the administrative parts of the build, including registering volunteers, providing snacks and lunch, and other support.

“We wanted to do something, but we’re a small congregation,” said Suzanne Wooderson. “We couldn’t do it on our own, so with joining with other congregations, we could be part of the Unity Build.”

The first day happened to coincide with another special day for Nicole–her birthday. The volunteers gathered at lunch to wish her well.

“I had an opportunity to meet Nicole,” said. Pastor Barriere. “It’s her birthday. I asked her how does this feel on your birthday, expereincing this. She says it’s wonderful. I’m just glad to be a part of making her dream come true.”

Working with Nicole had an impact on many of the volunteers.

“Graham [Swift] and I are both homeowners, so we know the importance of being familiar with your house,” said Gerald Myers of St. Paul’s Episcopal. “Being out here helping build it is gonna make her very familiar with the house, and hopefully, a better homeowner.”

“I can’t imagine what this is like for her,” said Sara Chancellor-Watson. “I imagine it would be very exciting and humbling to have waited so long to have a home of your own. But the day is here. It’s come. Now the shape of the house is literally coming up before her eyes. To finally realize this dream I’m sure is an incredible experience for her, and it’s incredible to be a part of that with her.”

“It’s been good to get out beside her,” said Frank Cannon. “It’s part of what makes Habitat such a good thing. You get out there and work side by side with somebody that’s gonna have a home. If you’re gonna change generational poverty in life, the best thing to do is help somebody become a homeowner. When you’re working right beside them and it’s not a hand out, it’s a hand up.”

On the third day of the build, it looked like Hurricane Nate might be heading for New Orleans. Though the storm ultimately went east, some wind and rain made that third day a little uninviting for volunteers. Still, many of them came out anyway.

“It’s what we’re supposed to do,” said Glenda Spears. “Ministry does not pick when it happens, so to speak, because the Bible tells us we are always supposed to be working to make our situation better and help others. How could we as Chrisrtians not come even though the storm was coming. That’s an example of how things happen that we are unable to predict. We’re here as long as the weather holds up. It’s a great showing of our faith. Even Nicole is here. How could we not come? She’s here. We’re here. God is gonna work it out for us.”

“Even though I’m not building, I’m here for support,” said Sue Crawford of John Calvin Presbyterian. “But I really wanted to see the structure secure. If the storm comes, it will stay intact.”