Habitat for Humanity demonstrate's community's compassion

First published:
Nov. 6, 2002

There is a rather interesting home being renovated on Alexandria Drive in Cobourg. It is one of the 24 houses being worked on by Habitat for Humanity of Northumberland. Certainly, the fact that Habitat for Humanity is working on a house is nothing unusual.

This past Saturday members of the Cobourg Rotary Club were out in full force working on their bungalow, which is the first renovated specifically for seniors.

There was also Tim Clarke and his partner Kim Henderson, along with her three school-age children, working on their new home, a semi-detached just next door. This is part of the sweat equity required for this couple who are the most recent additions to the growing community of 10 families. Tim, a chef at Ste. Anne’s Inn in Grafton, is thrilled with the opportunity.

“This is a new start for us,’ he said beaming, while fixing a blade in a X-acto-kinfe before going back to work. “ It is great, especially for the children. We are able to get back into a community. I am looking forward to helping my neighbours. We will have a home life again – a roof over our heads. This is a place we can call our own.”

Yes, this is all very interesting. But the house at343 Alexandria Drive is different in one way. It has a special name: Faith House. Churches from across Northumberland County are contributing minds, muscle and money to the project. Already $15,000 is raised, but another $20,000 is still needed.

The inside and outside is stripped down to the bare walls. A group of six people are busy putting up insulation on the outside walls, while six men work in the building installing the electrical wiring. Two are qualified electricians. Everyone else is a volunteer.

Heather Halls, co-chair of the Habitat for Humanity’s church relations committee, is nervous at first to talk about the Christian aspect. Although the worldwide organization is a Christian non-profit group, Halls is quick to point out it is not exclusive and, in fact, anyone can volunteer or contribute. The families are chosen by their needs, never by any other criteria.

It is not surprising she reacts so quickly. Christianity is going through a bit of a crisis. Headlines scream out about priests accused of assaulting children. Then, there are crippling legal suits many denominations face from Native communities over past abuses. Add to this a declining membership and shrinking revenues in the offering plates and it could look bleak.

And all this is compounded by society that does not like to talk about faith in public. Spiritual talk is relegated to the religion pages of newspapers and Sunday mornings on television. It is never raised in polite conversation.

Yet here is an example of faith in action. And not just the Christian faith. It is a spirituality. And it is borne out in the simplest ways. Each house is dedicated by a religious leader, including one house by an Alderville shaman. All meetings begin and end with prayer.

Then there are the acts of faith. Those moments when no obvious answer exists and a problem is left to God, says Halls. Just take the electrian working in Faith House. The group was getting ready to hire a contractor, something done when no one with the proper skills volunteers.

Then, almost out of nowhere, an electrian showed up last week, just when it was needed. This week, he brought a friend. And it is only one example. There are countless stories like this, Hall says.

In our branded world where corporations push to have their name associated with nearly everything, Faith House is significant. It is an acknowledgement of the spiritual aspect of our lives. And in a world that at time appears to be motivated by values no deeper than a cookie sheet, it is a beacon.

Regardless of our religious practice or lack of one, life can have an added dimension. This is not something limited to Sundays or holy days, but to all aspects: family, community, volunteerism and so on. In his book Work as a Spiritual Practice, Lewis Richmond argues our job satisfaction can be increased with this approach.

Faith House also reminds us that business and government are not the only players in a community who can tackle tough issues like homelessness.

In a week where Islam celebrates the Holy month of Ramadan, Hindus will enjoy the festival of lights called Diwali, the Jewish celebration of Chanukah is on the horizon and Christians begin to set their sites on Christmas, it seems like a good time to be creating a space called Faith House.

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