Sunday, August 07, 2005

Creating a House - and Making it a Home

Creating a House – and Making it a Home

I had read about ‘Habitat for Humanity,’ mostly thanks to former President Jimmy Carter, but not personally experienced it, before yesterday.

Eleven years ago, when the new Pastor of Leeds Church joined the congregation, she challenged members to practice social responsibility no only by writing checks, but by undertaking projects. These projects, she suggested, should be good works that would also bring the congregation together as a community. Building a habitat home became such a project, spanning several years, and a daunting commitment that was chronicled in reports at Sunday services, vestry meetings, planning meetings, fund-raising reports and much more. My own involvement was minimal – as a weekend commuter and workaholic, I lack the balance in my life, so far, that make participation in such a project feasible. Writing a check and helping to celebrate the project’s completion was all that I did.

More than seventy five of us gathered yesterday afternoon on a one acre plot, beside a country road near Marshall, Virginia, to celebrate. The house, itself, is a modest two story rectangle, with a traditional front porch, a peaked roof and yellow trim. There are four small bedrooms plus a kitchen-living area and laundry room. This is much less spacious than the typical Faquier County home, but will probably seem ample for a family of five – a single mother and two children – whose home has been a two bedroom trailer.

The celebration had many elements of a typical country gathering – a multigenerational crowd, new kittens being displayed by children, trucks and sport utility vehicles parked along the road, animals in a neighboring pasture, the ubiquitous food and refreshment table, screened from the afternoon sun by a blue plastic tarpaulin, improvised as a tent.

But the ritual was new to me. The family, the Habitat representative, three robed pastors including the Episcopal Bishop of Virginia, sundry project workers – all volunteers – the Leeds Chapel choir and the family gathered on the porch. Hymns were sung, prayers were said, project leaders were acknowledged, simple gifts were given. Then the family and pastors walked through the house, blessing each room with a prayer that was appropriate to its function, while those of us gathered outside, repeated the blessing. The Christian Bible, like other religious texts, has an appropriate passage for pretty much everything. The final step in the ritual was a ceremonial presentation of the keys to the family by a Habitat representative. A house became, ‘officially’ a home.

What is ‘community?’ Anthropological and other academic discourses fill many feet of library shelves with contesting responses to the question. For three hours yesterday afternoon, about seventy five Faquier county residents, including me, experienced community as a tangible physical and spiritual reality.


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12:53 PM  

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