By Laura McAlister
For many Christians, Lent is the season to give something up, but some Over the Mountain area churches are using it as an opportunity to give something back.
Lent is the period between Ash Wednesday and Holy Week that prepares Christians for Easter. It’s a time of reflection and self-denial, as well as a time of almsgiving or giving back.
For the past nine years, Habitat for Humanity Greater Birmingham, through its Building on Faith program, has used the season to bring churches of all denominations together to build homes for families in need.
More than 20 Birmingham area churches and 1,000 volunteers have joined together this year to build six houses during Lent. The houses will be dedicated on Good Friday, April 22.
“It’s really a great way to celebrate Good Friday,” said Beth Jerome, vice president of marketing and development for Birmingham’s Habitat. “Good Friday and Easter are all about new beginnings, and this is a new beginning for the homeowners.”
Over the Mountain area participating this year include All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Asbury United Methodist Church, Episcopal Church of the Holy Apostles, Highlands United Methodist Church, Independent Presbyterian Church (IPC), Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church, Our Lady of the Valley Catholic Church, Riverchase United Methodist Church, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, St. Mary’s-on-the-Highlands Episcopal Church, St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, St. Thomas Episcopal Church and Trinity United Methodist Church.
IPC has participated in the Building on Faith program since it started in 2002 and also has a group of members who volunteer year round for Habitat. During Lent, volunteers work on the home two days a week – Thursdays and Saturdays.
“One of the things you often hear talked about during the Lenten season is giving something up,” said the Rev. Susan Clayton, associate pastor for community ministries at IPC. “Lent is a season when you take on some form of service or spiritual discipline, too.
“It’s an act of gratitude toward God for all His goodness towards us, and it’s a way for us to express our love to Him.”
On any given work day, Susan said, there are around 25 church members on hand to help with the building of the house. Some are skilled; others are not.
“One of the great things about Habitat is they’ve learned how to work with unskilled workers,” Susan said. “Really, you just have to be over the age of 14 to work. Some people come out and hammer and frame walls, and others are painting or just cleaning.
“We’ll have the youth group out there Saturday (April 16) doing the landscaping. That’s the last thing we’ll do.”
The Habitat homes being built during Lent are scattered throughout the Birmingham area. The IPC site is in Ensley. Once complete, it will be home to Shanna Williams and her two sons.
Since Habitat requires future homeowners to participate in the building of their house, Susan said, volunteers have really gotten to know the family.
“This is going to be the first home she’s ever owned,” Susan said. “She has two little boys – one is 5 and the other 1. She’s a wonderful young woman, and she’s just so excited.”
Getting to see the excitement on the new homeowners’ faces is Rupert Bodden’s favorite part about volunteering for Habitat. The Homewood resident is a member of IPC’s year-round Habitat volunteers and also participates in the Lenten builds.
Rupert likes to dabble in carpentry, although he was a dentist before retiring. Using spare wood from the building sites, he has created a cross to hang in each of the Lenten homes IPC has built.
Although Rupert enjoys both the construction and the camaraderie associated with Habitat, it’s really about seeing the families in their new home.
“It’s just a real thrill to watch their excitement, and for them to express their appreciation,” he said. “It gives us a lot of pleasure and joy. In almost every case, this is the first time they’ve ever had a house.”