Durham Habitat: Interfaith partnerships build community

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DURHAM —Blake Strayhorn, Habitat for Humanity

“Jesus will be the site supervisor,” said the organizational email for a Durham Habitat home build on Taylor Street.  Taylor Street was an Interfaith Build sponsored by members of Fisher Memorial Imam Luqman presents the Quran at Habitat's 2010 Interfaith Build.United Holy Church, First Presbyterian Church, Judea Reform Congregation and Watts Street Baptist Church to honor their faith leaders.

“Wait a minute,” replied a member of Judea Reform.  “If our build is led by a higher spirit, we’d prefer that Moses, not Jesus, lead us!” 

Durham Habitat’s faith statement says:  Founded on Christian ideals in 1985, Durham Habitat partners with those who share our values of love, respect, compassion and justice for all.  We welcome those of any faith -- or no faith -- to join us building homes, hope and community in Durham. 

We like to use the term “radically inclusive” and yet our Taylor Street organizational email hadn’t made our Jewish friends feel welcomed.  Unintentionally, we’d set the wrong tone for this Interfaith partnership.

Jesus did lead our Taylor Street build, but he’s Jesus Gutierrez.  Jesus G. says he serves water, not wine, on his job sites.  He does claim the occasional miracle, but it involves turning an old vacant Durham Habitat's Taylor Street Interfaith build honored (from left) Bishop Elroy Lewis, Rabbi John Friedman, Rev. Mel Williams and Rev. Joe Harvard.house into an energy-efficient home. 

Durham Habitat hosted a Habitat for Humanity International (HFHI) Interfaith Networking Conference last month.  I told this story to illustrate some of the unexpected communication challenges bringing diverse groups together can present.  Durham is honored to be one of eight national affiliates to receive an Interfaith Engagement Grant through HFHI and the Argosy Foundation.  The grant vision is to help the world see and experience interfaith communities working and advocating together to end poverty with decent shelter for all. The conference drew leaders from Habitat affiliates across the Southeast to share their Interfaith experiences and to learn practical guidance on Interfaith collaboration to further Habitat’s mission. 

For some affiliates, interfaith means Catholics and Protestants building together.  For Durham Habitat, interfaith means Christians, Jews, Muslims and other faiths coming together to work on a common problem Durham shares: a lack of affordable housing.  Our problem leaves tens of thousands of our Durham neighbors without a safe and affordable place to call home. 

Thanks to our visionary and inclusive founders, Durham Habitat has been welcoming interfaith coalitions to build homes since 1985.  We don’t shy away from our Christian roots as we build, and we
Jesus G., Durham Habitat's Site Supervisor serves water not wine. don’t want others to “water down” their own faith beliefs.  We embrace and celebrate the diversity of our individual beliefs. 

Without fail, we leave an interfaith gathering with new friends and greater conviction that we have more in common than we do differences that can separate us.  We realize all major faiths embrace
the values on which Durham Habitat was founded on love, compassion, service to community and social justice. 

Durham Habitat is hosting quarterly Interfaith Build days, and our next interfaith day of service is Nov. 20th.   We can’t promise that Jesus will be your site supervisor, but we can promise that you will have a meaningful experience of putting faith into action.  For more information contact Rebecca Harvard Leonard, Faith Relations Manager: rleonard@durhamhabitat.org.

Habitat Success Stories

Pearlie's home was so damaged that neighbors thought it was abandoned. Habitat partnered with the City of Durham to replace Pearlie's roof, a damaged wall, and exterior siding. Pearlie said, "It lifts my spirits. Habitat volunteers are beautiful people."