Churches work together to build house

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Kelly Keiser grew up in a Baptist household, attended a Methodist university and while she was in college joined a Southern Baptist church.

"I believe in Christianity, but I'm not a specific denomination," said Keiser, 25.

So it seems fitting that the house she will own is being built by members of nine churches in Harford County. "This house is like me," said Keiser, who applied for the house in February and found out in April she had been selected.

The house, in Edgewood, is a Harford Habitat for Humanity project called Faithworks. It marks the first time so many churches of different denominations have joined together to build a house for Harford Habitat, a branch of the international nonprofit that builds inexpensive homes.

Construction began in September. The house has a roof, exterior walls and windows but still needs plumbing and other interior work. Keiser and her three daughters, ages 2 months to 9 years old, are expected to move in by the end of April. Like other Habitat recipients, she will pay a no-interest mortgage for the home.

The idea for the multifaith construction project began with Harford Habitat's church relations committee, said Joe Hughes, who chairs the committee.

Habitat officials sent letters to 18 local churches, requesting that each donate $6,000, plus volunteer hours from parishioners.

Nine churches accepted the challenge: Bel Air Church of the Nazarene, Aberdeen Proving Ground's Main Post Chapel in Aberdeen, St. Ignatius Roman Catholic Congregation in Hickory, Holy Spirit Roman Catholic Church in Joppatowne, St. Margaret Roman Catholic Church in Bel Air, St. Mark Roman Catholic Church in Fallston, Oak Grove Baptist Church in Bel Air, St. Joan of Arc Roman Catholic Church in Aberdeen and St. Stephen Roman Catholic Church in Bradshaw.

Some of the churches were inspired to sign up for the project after Harford Habitat held a prayer breakfast in September at the Church of the Nazarene. About 70 people attended, representing 35 churches. Habitat officials hope to hold a similar prayer breakfast every year, Hughes said.

Some churches - including St. Mark, St. Ignatius and the Church of the Nazarene - are offering groups of volunteers who work together on a single day, while other churches send out parishioners to work as their schedules permit. There is no minimum number of volunteer hours, said Mike Myers, past president of Harford Habitat and a member of the church relations committee, but volunteers must attend a one-hour safety training class.

The Rev. James M. Barker, pastor at St. Ignatius, said about 20 members of his church volunteered. "It was a chance for us to work in our neighborhoods with other churches in the community," he said, and "to provide safe, decent, affordable housing for a family that's in need."

Hughes said that Millard and Linda Fuller, who founded Habitat for Humanity in 1976, would have liked the idea of an ecumenical, multifaith building project. In Millard Fuller's 1994 book, The Theology of the Hammer, he urged people to focus on what brings them together, not on their differences, Hughes said.

Harford Habitat houses are often built by crews with certain themes. Local Presbyterian churches built one, said Jim Letwinsky, volunteer coordinator for Harford Habitat. Another is being built mostly by women, he said.

Another Habitat house is being built next to the Faithworks house on Love Avenue. This one is called Banking on Our Communities, and it's being constructed as a cooperative effort by local banks.

Habitat officials said there is no competition between the "religion" house and the "money" house, and volunteers go from one to the other as necessary. "It's a real team effort to get these houses built," Myers said.

Keiser, an employee with the direct marketing company Custom Direct, has been living in a two-bedroom house in Aberdeen with her mother since separating from her husband last year. They're divorced now, and she's excited to move into her own house, particularly one built by people of different faiths.

"I think it's very neat," she said. "I think it really encompasses the concept of what God really wants. ... Everyone coming together. ... I think that's why this house is so special."

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