Over the month of October, I participated in an incredible project here in New Orleans called a Unity Build.
Picture this: eleven local congregations (of various denominations) coming together over a 13-day period to build a house in New Orleans for a single mother with 2 children.
During my second day of work at Lakeview Presbyterian Church, the Pastor asked me to attend a meeting in lieu of him. At this point in my YAV year, I had worked a total of 3 hours at this church and had not yet been to a Sunday worship service there. But of course, I could not deny my new boss a favor, and I headed to this meeting with little-to-no prior knowledge on the community I was representing, only a small amount of information on the topic of the meeting, and not much insight on how to properly park in New Orleans.
The meeting was a Habitat for Humanity meeting (I knew that much before walking through the door) and was filled with unfamiliar faces and uncomfortably close seats. I am sure those around me would have described my expression as “lost” as I struggled to grab a seat at the crowded table. In fact, I did feel lost. However, the meeting began and the pieces started coming together. I sat there silently as key words stuck out to me: “Unity Build,” “Habitat for Humanity,” “Eleven Congregations,” and “Express Build”. In other words, I soon pieced together: Lakeview Presbyterian Church was participating in a “Unity Build” through “Habitat for Humanity” with “Eleven Congregations” and the house would be built in 13 days over the course of the month of October. Each Thursday, Friday, and Saturday in the month of October and a single Sunday, volunteers would come together to build a house. That adds up to 3 day a week over 4 weeks which makes 12 days, plus the bonus Sunday which makes 13 days. Wow, incredible! This would be Lakeview’s first time participating in this annual event and October was just weeks away. As I left the meeting, I thought of the words “Unity Build” repeatedly in my head. “13 days!” I didn’t know whether to feel more excited or overwhelmed.
On Thursday, October 5th, members of the eleven congregations came out for Day 1 of the build. The ministers and pastors of each church stood together with the future home owner, Nicole, and lifted the first wall for her new home. Prayers were said, blessing were lifted, and tears were shed on that first day. I stood and watched this beautiful project unfold. I coordinated my schedule with the Lakeview pastor to insure I could be present at this build more over the weeks to come. The build happened each Thursday, Friday, and Saturday of October. Two of those day I spent countless hours on the roof, under the hot New Orleans sun. Now let me just tell you, it is NOT cold in New Orleans in October. “Fall” is not a thing down here. And don’t let the locals fool you when they pull out a jacket for 70-degree weather. Other days I spend painting the exterior and interior of the house. Inside was just as hot and sweaty as the roof. There was no airflow inside the house, and many volunteers were packed into small spaces. But the mood was positive and joy was spread throughout the group.
And it was beautiful. It was beautiful how smoothly these congregations worked together. New friendships blossoming, connections made, and stories told. An AmeriCorps group was assigned to the site and guided use with constructional instructions. At lunch, we took an hour to sit in the shade, grab a sandwich, and relax. Then, it was back to work for the hottest portion of the day, where we kept each other hydrated and laughing through the sweat. Hurricane Nate gave us a scare, so the one work Sunday we had planned was canceled (we now only had 12 days to finish the build!). We worked through Friday the 13th with positive attitudes. We were one unit. We were one unit, working together. We came from different backgrounds. While each had different skills (in fact none of my skills fell under the construction branch), we had a common goal and we had faith. We came from different definitions of “home” and here we were, working together to build a new definition of “home” for Nicole and her family. And it was beautiful.
There is something special about building a home in New Orleans. Katrina destroyed countless homes 12 years ago and there is still destruction across the city. Homes remain uninhabited, empty lots are found where homes once stood, markings on buildings are still visible in well-established neighborhoods. Many are homeless. Many are renters who pay way too much for too small of space. Many need a home. And in just 12 days, a home was built. And I witnessed it. A home was built with love. A home was built with unity. A home was built for Nicole and her two children.
I was honored to be a part of this Unity Build. I was humbled to get to work beside Nicole, as the Habitat for Humanity program requires that Nicole be a part of the building process. I was excited to represent Lakeview Presbyterian Church, a new home community I have found here in New Orleans. I was glad to work alongside 2 of my new housemates during this Unity Build. I was glad to make new friends and connections through this Unity Build. And I was in awe of this project, of the house, and all its glory, of the support from the community and of all the love that was shed on the house.
At that first meeting that I went to on my second day as a YAV, I learn about the Unity Build. And while being a part of that Unity Build, I learned what united meant.
United: joined together for a common purpose or by common feelings
Eleven congregations, Habitat for Humanity, and Nicole were joined together for a common purpose and with common feelings. Feelings of hope and determination to build a home. United they were, through the Unity Build.
I am united in New Orleans. I am united with Nicole. I am united with eleven different congregations. As we are all united in Christ.