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Thursday, Sept. 2, 2004 09:50 am

The other Abe’s house

More than two dozen local law enforcement officers helped build a home last month for Habitat for Humanity. The project was dubbed Reconciliation Home.

The shovel ceremony marking the opening of Millard Fuller Place last Wednesday was a groundbreaking in more ways than one. For starters, it heralded the creation of a 12-lot subdivision to be filled entirely with Habitat for Humanity homes. But the first Millard Fuller Place home to be built will also break new ground -- it will be built by a coalition of Catholics, Unitarians, Muslims, and Jews.

Called the House of Abraham, it's a partnership of religious organizations so diverse that a special interfaith committee was formed to negotiate the kind of food to serve and the prayers to be recited to bless it. After considering the kosher code and its Islamic equivalent, halal, the committee agreed on a vegetarian menu -- served on real dishes with real silverware, because the Unitarian Universalists don't like Styrofoam plates.

"We prefer not to contribute to environmental waste," says the Rev. Martin Woulfe, pastor of the Abraham Lincoln Unitarian Universalist Congregation, "so when that came up, people discussed it and decided it would be a way of showing good caretaking of the earth."

The committee also approved a set of prayers that will be used at meetings, at the dedication of the home site, and at each meal during the construction project.

"The concern was that the prayers were ones everybody felt they could participate in, and that required a little bit of education," says Anne Morgan, the Temple Israel representative to the committee.

But as committee members attended each other's worship services, they discovered that the ties that bound them were stronger than any theological details that could divide them.

"The more we learn, the more respectful we can be, and the greater opportunity we have to see similarities and focus on those rather than differences," says Maryam Mostoufi, the Islamic Society's representative on the committee.

Other partners in this project include Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church and Pax Christi Springfield. The new subdivision will occupy the 3400 block of South Park Avenue.

Kim Harmon, who will receive the keys to House of Abraham on Oct. 24, looks forward to being the owner of such a special home. "I really embraced the idea because of what's going on in the world right now," she says.

Her new Habitat home will be wheelchair-accessible, and the kitchen countertops will be adjusted to accommodate her short stature. Most important, the furnace will be equipped with a filter to clean the air. Harmon, 44, has kyphoscoliosis, a congenital condition that affects her spine and lungs.

Another Habitat house nearing completion was built by a coalition that included local law-enforcement personnel and an assortment of churches -- Hope Evangelical Free Church, Good Shepherd Lutheran, and the predominantly black Abundant Faith Christian Center -- along with D's Auto World and Jewel-Osco.

Although the group was originally envisioned by Habitat as a coalition that would demonstrate racial unity, the homeowner and steering committee decided they didn't want the term "race" in the name. Leaving that word out meant that the partners could let their actions speak for themselves, says coordinator Sgt. Wes Barr of the Sangamon County Sheriff's Department.

"We didn't want to say we were doing this project to improve race relations. That's not why we took it on," he says. "It shows that we can bring people together and we can all work to do something positive for the community."

They named it Reconciliation House.

Barr estimates that 10 to 15 deputies and about a dozen Springfield police officers (including Chief Don Kliment) have worked on the project so far. The whole house was erected Aug. 21 in an intense effort that included a parade of people carrying trusses down the street and handing them up to workers on the roof.

"The roof was up in 20 minutes," says SPD Sgt. Jeff Bivens, co-chair of construction. "It was fun to watch a house go up that way."

Like the workers on House of Abraham, Bivens and Barr say there's something about a building project that binds people together. The guys from Abundant Faith "were good hard workers, same as we were, there to help a very nice lady trying to raise four kids," Bivens says. "You're all just saying, 'Hey, hand me that board.' You're busy enoughyou don't have time to find differences."

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