Bahai News -- The Blade - Building an understanding

Building an understanding

14 faiths join in project

Merle Tittle, left, and Glen Torrence, center, both of Heatherdowns Church of the Brethren, and Al Palmer, a regular Habitat volunteer, work on the home that will be dedicated tomorrow afternoon. Photo: THE BLADE/DON SIMMONS

One of the most vivid images to emerge from a MultiFaith Habitat for Humanity project to be dedicated tomorrow was that of an Orthodox Jewish woman and a Muslim woman wearing a head scarf carrying a board together as they cleaned the construction site.

Nobody snapped a photograph of the scene, but it will forever be impressed on the mind of Woody Trautman, who helped organize the most expansive interfaith Habitat for Humanity effort yet in the Toledo area, bringing together more than 300 people of 14 different faiths and 18 congregations.

"They were out at the work site, cleaning up loose boards and stuff from the construction, two women carrying the same board and having a great time, each as enthusiastic as they could be to work on this project."

Throughout the month that it took to build a new home at 1134 Gribbin Lane for James and Jamie Holmes and their four children, similar scenes played out between members of other faiths as Baha’is joined Buddhists and Muslims teamed with Mormons on the construction project.

Glen Torrence, an electrician and member of the Church of the Brethren, found common ground with Ajit Jaggi, an electrical engineer and a Hindu, as the pair worked on wiring.

Carol Lehmann, a Presbyterian who attends a Unitarian church, learned how Michelle Joseph became an adherent of the Baha’i faith while one woman held a beam and the other wielded a power saw.

Often, the volunteers would take a few moments between pounding nails or sawing wood to talk about their religious beliefs in what Mr. Trautman said was a nonthreatening atmosphere for interfaith dialogue.

"You didn’t have to worry about saying the wrong thing or getting stepped on or somebody trying to convert you. It just seemed to be natural."

Before the volunteers would pick up a drill or a saw, 35 to 50 of them took part in a series of four workshops beginning in November.

"At each workshop we discussed the same aspects of different religions," Mrs. Lehmann said, "and it was wonderfully designed so no real dogmatic conflict would arise in the discussion."

For example, members of the group would tell how their particular faith engaged in social action and humanitarian activities or what their religion said about resolving differences. "So people wouldn’t start fighting about the nature of God and so forth."

Mr. Trautman said participants in the workshops also used activities like games, dance, walking a labyrinth, and drawing mandalas to get acquainted with each other.

Judy Lee Trautman, Mr. Trautman’s wife and a Sufi, said the purpose of the workshops was to build a multi-faith community as well as a house. By the time construction started, she said, a bond had already formed.

She said she was especially touched by the interaction between Mr. Jaggi and the children from a Mormon family who worked on the project as part of their home-schooling. "Ajit was just fascinated with this family. They had twin boys who were like little squirrels over the rafters. Every time they hit a nail, one shot and it was home. These kids were obviously experts already. Ajit adopted them and would say, ‘OK Short family, let’s get back to work.’"

Mrs. Trautman said she also observed what appeared to be a deep discussion between Abdul Hammuda, a Muslim, and a Unitarian man as they nailed braces on the roof. "They would hammer a couple minutes, then talk a couple of minutes. ... It was agreeable to me to see that we did create a safe haven for discussion."

Mr. Hammuda, one of the co-founders of the Masjid Saad, a mosque on Secor Road, said the two men talked about the concept of God and how to relate to God. "I learned a few things from him and maybe I said things that were new to him as well. We were just doing something great, meanwhile understanding more about each other and ourselves."

He said that often when Muslims and members of other faiths meet it is to discuss religion. "But here we met to build something and consequently we shared our values and thoughts and that was a great way to educate each other. I think I got more out of it than I gave, but that’s the whole idea. I went there to learn."

Beth Smith, a Christian Scientist who served as food coordinator at the site, said she was impressed with the universality she encountered among all the religions represented. "Even though we call God different things and worship Him in different ways it really is one power guiding all of us."

Barbara Webber, director of public relations for Habitat for Humanity International, said the ecumenical program has seen an increase in multi-faith builds like the Toledo project, especially since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"It’s part of what we call the theology of the hammer, putting aside any differences we may have in regard to religion or politics and coming together for a common purpose, which is to provide simple, decent housing for families in need."

Maumee Valley Habitat for Humanity has been doing interfaith builds since 1997, when a Jewish congregation and two Christian churches collaborated on a house. That was followed by a Jewish-Christian-Muslim build in 2000, and a Jewish-Christian-Baha’i build involving 11 congregations last year.

This year’s MultiFaith build brought together members of the Baha’i faith, Church of the Brethren, and New Beginnings Church of Religious Science as well as Soka Gakkai and Zen Buddhists, Christian Scientists, Episcopalians, Hindus, Jews, United Methodists, Mormons, Muslims, Sufis, and Unitarians.

Mr. Thayer said the Toledo MultiFaith build marks the first time Mormons, Hindus, and Christian Scientists have been involved in a Habitat project locally.

The latest project is part of a 16-house development on Gribbin Lane in North Toledo that the local Habitat chapter put together with help of a number of grants and donations, including $150,000 from the city’s department of neighborhoods, $78,500 from the Toledo Housing Fund, $17,500 from First Energy Corp., $12,500 from the Maumee Rotary Club, and $25,000 from participating faith groups.

Mrs. Trautman said the MultiFaith build community was a microcosm of how the world could be. "We don’t have to kill each other, but honor our differences and create something good together. It’s proof to me that people can live this way."

The MultiFaith Habitat for Humanity house will be dedicated at 3 p.m. tomorrow at 1134 Gribbin Lane, north of Alexis Road, off Lewis Avenue.

©Copyright 2003, The Blade (Toledo, OH, USA)

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