Unity Build, Week 3

This year’s Unity Build is NOAHH’s fifth. Though the 2015 build is often considered the “first,” it’s really the first since Hurricane Katrina. Before the storm, three other Unity Houses were built, with many congregations taking part in the builds. One of those congregations was St. Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church.

“Prior to Hurricane Katrina, some six or seven of us pastors of both Christian and Jewish congregations and of all races got together and decided that it would be really neat if we could find something that would be worthwhile for the community that we could do together,” said Rev. Don Frampton of St. Charles Avenue Presbyterian. “So we hit upon the idea of sponsoring a whole Habitat house and not only funding the building of the house, but also providing the volunteers to build the house. So we did three of those beginning in 1998 or so up until 2004. We would do a house every two or three years, and then come back and do another house. Those projects worked out really well for us and we got to know others across denominational lines and felt good about those relationships we were making. In a sense it was kinda a part of an overall effort for all churches and congregations to do some more things together. We hold worship services together, sometimes we make statements to the community together, we have continued in a rich and enjoyable experience of fellowship among the pastors. It kinda begins with relationships we developed with the pastors one to the other, and then we begin asking each other what we can we do together. Unity House came out of that.”

After Hurricane Katrina, St. Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church stepped up to sponsor several houses on their own. They also coordinated thousands of volunteers through their RHINO program.

“Our connection with Habitat as a church goes back many years,” said Rev. Frampton. “I have been the pastor for almost 24 years, and I would say 20 of those 24 years we have been involved in Habitat projects. We’ve been glad to be involved. We think Habitat is a fantastic organization that organizes extremely well the projects and supervises them well. The church completely believes in the mission of Habitat as well. We’ve done any number of houses through the years prior to Hurricane Katrina. We worked on two to three Unity Houses together with other congregations as an ecumenical mission project. We enjoyed doing that. Then following Hurricane Katrina there was an opportunity for our church to basically take on an entire block of a New Orleans street. Over two to three years, we ended up building 14 houses on both sides of that street, filling it with Habitat houses. We’re glad we were able to do that and then following that project, we continued working with Habitat through our Rebuilding Hope in New Orleans (RHINO) program. We utilized the volunteers from all around the country who would come on a weekly basis to work on houses throughout Orleans Parish. We are pleased that that has continued as well. We look back on our work with Habitat with a sense of great satisfaction, and we are absolutely delighted that we were able to be a part of this project going on now, this Unity Build project here in New Orleans.”

The 2015 build was a rebirth of the Unity Build project. The two churches that led the charge there were Household of Faith and Trinity Episcopal Church. Though Rev. Henry Hudson of Trinity Episcopal has moved to a new congregation, Rev. Andrew Thayer has continued the partnership with Unity Build 2017.

“I love it,” Rev. Thayer said. “We’ve had a lot of people today. It’s alays nice to work side by side with someone you don’t know. After you spend a day with them making cuts, making mistakes, fixing the mistakes, painting, doing some hammering together, you get to know someone. It’s great. I spent the day with Tony from First Baptist, and we had a blast. Working side by side just changes the way you think about the house and who’s working on the house together. Working side by side is what it’s all about and why Habitat is something important contribute to society.”

“This is really fantastic,” said Rev. Frampton. “It’s week three of the Unity Build that St. Charles [Presbyterian] is part of, along with ten other congregations, and our church is responsible for today in part as well as next Saturday. We’ve had a really fantastic turnout of volunteers from our congregation. In fact we couldn’t take any more volunteers so that’s always good to see. I think it’s fantastic seeing the progress that’s taking place at this house. We have just a few more days to finish everything. We’re gonna be on schedule, and the weather has cooperated for the most part. It’s a beautiful day out here.”

As with the 2015 Unity Build, Trinity Episcopal is taking part in every aspect of the build.

“We’ve tried to rally the troops to come out here,” said Rev. Thayer. “We had all sorts of different help. Some people brought lunch that didn’t feel like they were the hammering kind. Some people donated some of the money. Today is a staff work day, so this is Trinity staff. I’ve got my Communications Director who just walked by. I’ve been working with a member of the Vestry, and I’ve got my organist and Music Director around on one side. I think my Young Adults Coordinator is inside working on the floor. So we’re all over the place.”

The Unity Build has always been a chance for people to connect, and that tradition has continued.

“There’s a whole bunch of differences that we can sometimes become overly focused on, but a day like today helps us realize that we actually share a great deal more than what separates us,” said Rev. Thayer. “Working alongisde someone you really get to know that doctrinal differences apart this is what we do for the least of these. It’s something we all agree on.”

“It’s early in the day but I’m delighted to have made a few new friends out here and we look forward to meeting some others,” said Rev. Frampton. “One thing that’s really neat about this is that kind of work brings us together. So we may come from different theologies, theological backgrounds, philosophies or ideologies, but we all have one thing to do. That unites us. All of those differences seem to kind of fade away when you are doing this actual work on this house. I’m someone who likes seeing people united, not separated, so I’m glad to see this happening today.”