On Saturday morning, January 11, a group of UUCA members gathered outside a Bankhead home. The brisk winter air combined with the warmth of fellowship: old and new friends sharing stories, making jokes, and building a new home and a new future for a family we had never met.
Arriving late, coffee in hand, I scanned the scene. Painters were perched on ladders; the yard was strewn with wood, scattered plastic buckets, and paint cans; bodies moved in synch like a dutiful SIMS community. I was standing at a table layered with papers and snacks, looking for familiar UUCA faces, when a woman greeted me: “Hi, I’m Carlotta, the homeowner. Are you here to volunteer?” She signed me in, ushered me into the home, pointed out some projects that needed help, and then returned to her work installing a bathroom vanity.
I was shocked to see how many people were crammed into the three-bedroom house, all of them working like seasoned contractors, at each with the mechanics of their tasks and the stories of their fellow laborers.
Along with a Habitat for Humanity volunteer, Jill Pohl knelt behind the front door with a caulking gun, sealing the gaps between the front wall and the baseboards. The two enjoyed a compatible rhythm, chatting and coordinating their work in seamless choreography until the whole room was finished.
Walking down the hallway between the kitchen and living room, I found Lee Cook in one of the bedrooms, diligently working with other volunteers to assemble and attach knobs to the closets and entry doors. As his partner held a portable work light, Lee used a putty knife to chisel excess wood from the door to create a perfect fit. I heard Jen Bain’s voice in a bedroom across the hall, where she was working with two other volunteers, Tonika and Daniel, talking joyfully while they installed white blinds in the two bedroom windows.
Jen, Tonika, and Daniel traveled from room to room, dressing the bare windows. Tonika, a volunteer from Emory, made jokes and shared nuggets of wisdom with Daniel, several years her junior. Soon other volunteers joined in, and laughter spread through the hallway and into neighboring rooms.
Outside, Jane Mengel, Doug Abell, and Korina Hirch had joined a sea of volunteers from Emory, Aptar Atlanta, and Habitat for Humanity. Armed with grey paint, they addressed missed spots on the siding. Halfway up a 28-foot ladder as she touched up the side of the house, Korina was speaking with a woman below, who was dedicated to the same task. They chatted about work, family, and the news, both expressing a desire for a better, more just and honest world. Before being called away to lunch, they talked about doing what they could to spread hope and compassion.
At lunch, we sat on the damp concrete, getting to know one another and learning about how we’d all come to participate in the build. We learned that Mary ‘Liebs’ Liebman and Mark Honeycutt had first met in 2015 on a Habitat for Humanity build and had been heavily involved in Habit projects since 2004, helping to construct homes for nearly 450 families between them. Each had since become a Habitat for Humanity ‘Volunteer Skilled Supervisor,’ which explained why so many of us looked to them for instructions, relying on their knowledge to help us execute unfamiliar tasks.
As Unitarian Universalists, we can appreciate that there is a need to tackle every issue. In our unyielding belief in the inherent worth and dignity of all, we take seriously our responsibility to our community and feel the weight of our commitment to social justice. Often we wrestle with the frustration that comes from feeling as if our efforts are never enough.
While we champion equitable policy, vote our values, and give generously to our beloved institutions, we must also recognize that there is still a great need for practical actions—building homes for our neighbors, feeding the hungry, providing shelter for the homeless, and ministering to the lived realities of the oppressed. We don’t merely state our beliefs and principles, but strive to live them in deep community.
Several congregants and groups at UUCA are answering that call. The UUCA Homeless Advocacy group hosts regularly scheduled visits to shelters, providing and preparing food for our homeless and food-insecure neighbors. Women Empowered has led toiletry drives for shelters around Atlanta. The new Immigrant Action Team is in the early stages of planning collaborative activities, such as writing letters to detained immigrants, and direct actions with local immigrant advocacy groups.
Some of us will be participating in the March 15 Hunger Walk/Run to support our local food shelf, Toco Hills Community Alliance. Some of us will join the next Habitat for Humanity build on Saturday, April 25. These are all opportunities to live our Unitarian Universalist values in fellowship with the greater Atlanta community, opportunities for partnership and human connection that transform the fight for a cause into a deeper fight for our shared humanity.
Through service, we create conditions that can usher in a new world. On January 11, over 30 strangers from around the Atlanta metro area gathered alongside a woman and her family to build their new home. We joined them in opening a new chapter in their lives—creating new possibilities for members of our community and building sacred fellowship in the course of our work.
May these moments of shared goals, shared stories, and shared learning continue to help us build beloved community. May these relationships we forge help us to bless and change our world.