By K. Lee Graham
By 8 a.m. the August sun was already shining brightly on the small crowd gathered in front of a slab of concrete. Here, amid power tools and two-by-fours, they prayed to God. Christian members of Christ Church Episcopal and First Baptist, Jewish members of Temple of Israel, Muslims from the Atlantic Institute: They all prayed.
The Aug. 8 ceremony kicked off the Abraham Build, the second of Habitat for Humanity’s Bridge Builder series. The initiative, the brainchild of Habitat for Humanity’s Monroe Free and the Rev. Harrison McLeod from Christ Church Episcopal, is meant to foster dialogues between diverse groups while continuing Habitat’s work in the community.
“There was a desire to create this cross-cultural, cross-religious dialogue,” said Free, executive director and CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Greenville County. “People want to talk, they want better understanding, and Habitat just gives a way for that to happen.”
Members of the Abrahamic faiths — Islam, Judaism, and Christianity — will work together over the next 12 weeks until the house is complete. At last Thursday’s wall-raising, ceremony leaders representing each faith spoke to their shared roots in Abraham, pointing to his legacy of hospitality among the faiths as a uniting motivator in the Habitat Project.
Dr. Akif Aydin, president of the Atlantic Institute and representing the Muslim community, expressed his hope for hospitality to extend to the new Habitat homeowners, and among the faith communities of Greenville. “We are excited to be part of this project, first to provide a home for the family, and secondly to provide an opportunity and shelter for our faith community to get together and work together.”
Minister Kendra Plating of First Baptist Church reiterated a message of feeling welcome, citing John 14. “I’m so glad that we can come together to serve a God that says, ‘Come inside, I’ve prepared a place for you, and you are home.”’
The significance of the Abraham Build within the current cultural context is not lost on its organizers. At a time when the building of walls is considered an act of division, faith leaders expressed hope for the walls raised at the Abraham Build to bridge gaps, connect people, and stand as a sense of security and peace for the new homeowners and the community.
McLeod sees the Abraham Build as an appropriate response for community members, even in trying times. “Many parishioners have asked, ‘What can we do to respond to tragedies in our community, in the country?’ and we’ve been able to turn to these Bridge Builders. The more we get to know each other, the more we’re able to understand and relate to each other, the more we build community.”
At the completion of the Abraham Build, Geri Patterson, the new homeowner, will move into the house with her four daughters. After a months-long process of volunteering with Habitat and taking classes to prepare for homeownership, the Patterson family helped raise the first wall of their new home on Thursday morning alongside volunteers.
Patterson’s reaction to the unique nature of her home’s construction was one of gratitude and hope. “I instantly felt that our home was going to be blessed, because with everyone that’s here, how could it not be?”