What can bring members of 13 different faith organizations, the city of Beaufort and a branch of Wells Fargo together?
It sounds like the setup to a joke, but there’s no punchline for the folks working together on Lowcountry Habitat for Humanity’s Faith Build project in Mossy Oaks.
For the volunteers from these entities, it’s just a very real need in our community that is bringing them all together.
“It’s the right thing to do,” said the Rev. Lori Hlaban of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Beaufort. “There’s a myth that Habitat gives away houses, but it’s really giving someone a hand-up.”
On a recent Saturday morning, members of Hlaban’s congregation were working at the job site on Mossy Oaks Road alongside members of St. Mark’s Episcopal. The glinting sun provided enough light to safely work on the sawhorse, as Huey Lewis and The News blasted from a radio sitting on the concrete foundation.
It might have been the first time those two congregations worked together, but their common cause purposely crosses all theological and ecumenical boundaries.
“It’s a joy stepping on the job site to work with other faith-based congregations in our community,” said Daniel Morgan, president of seven local wards of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. “It unites us and strengthens our resolve to lift others and simply just be a good neighbor.”
His wife, Michelle Morgan, points out the volunteering nature of the project completed mostly by laypeople like her.
“While I don’t have a vast knowledge of carpentry work, I can swing a hammer and do my part to literally help build a fresh start for another family.”
That family — Sabrena Green and her two daughters — has already completed the sweat equity required of Habitat homeowners. Now, they can all simply enjoy showing up at the job site to welcome the workers with smiles and their always-positive attitudes.
Green’s children will attend nearby Mossy Oaks Elementary and Beaufort Middle School. That’s important to Baptist Church of Beaufort volunteer Donald Gruel, the now-retired long-time principal of Mossy Oaks. Though like others he considers himself an unskilled laborer, he also has enjoyed getting to know the family.
“It’s been good to give back and learn some new things on the site, as well as the unique aspect of working across the street from Mossy Oaks and knowing one of Sabrena’s children will be a student there,” said Gruel. “And I’ve only hit my finger with a hammer one time.”
Though it’s the fifth Faith Build that LowCountry Habitat has built, and the 52nd house overall, it’s the first faith-based project in quite a while. Plans are already in the works, however, to ensure it won’t be the last.
The idea for this build was to have a rotating schedule of churches working together.
In addition to the participants already mentioned, members from St. Peter’s Catholic Church, Sea Island Presbyterian, Wesley United Methodist, The Link Fellowship, Brick Baptist Church, the Christian Science Society, The Parish Church of St. Helena, First Presbyterian and St. John’s Lutheran have contributed time and talents as partners on the project.
“Fellowship is such an important part of our builds, and bringing together as many faith organizations as we can is part of our mission as an organization,” said LowCountry Habitat marketing and development director Janie Lackman.
More than all the good feelings the project engenders, however, is what the homes replace. For years, a dilapidated playground existed on the site, with more equipment disappearing every year.
Next to the playground was an old fire station, completing a full less-than bustling block in a busy residential neighborhood.
Now, the Faith Build house will sit on the old playground lot next to another Habitat house built and sponsored by residents of Dataw Island. The city of Beaufort really could not have done much better than to donate the land for its current purpose.
From the ceremonial wall-raising a month ago to the anticipated completion and housewarming in late summer, the entire project is another example of the good that can come when local congregations literally join hands along panels of sheetrock.
It’s less a Tower of Babel and more a monument to momentary synergy. So where once stood a couple of swings attached to rusted iron chains, soon a front door will lead to rooms where a family will gather for candlelit meals and lie their heads down in the dark with the comfort that comes from owning a home in a relatively safe neighborhood. That’s something worth reaching across devout religious lines to accomplish.