Lutherans in the Twin Cities

Lutherans wielding “holy hammers” for Habitat

Seven Luheran congregations and six others are heavily inveted in the program

A consortium of 13 north suburban congregations is about to enter its 10th year of building affordable homes for families, in conjunction with Habitat for Humanity. Seven of the 13 congregations in the consortium are Lutheran.
“Holy Hammers,” a grass-roots organization of people interested in affordable housing, is now considered by Habitat for Humanity as a model for consortiums of churches organized to build homes. That’s according to Judy Murakami, Shoreview, Minnesota, chairperson for the group. A north Minneapolis house constructed this year was dedicated with an ecumenical blessing service in October. Members of the Somali immigrant family that’s moved into the house were on hand.

The home is a two-story structure with front porch, four bedrooms, one and one-half baths, and a garage. The resident family of eight includes six children ranging in age from 11-21. The family was excited about having more space so the children would have room to play and study quietly.

Holy Hammers commits to providing volunteer labor to construct one home each year. That means recruiting volunteers for each week of the 10-11 week construction cycle, working on various construction phases from framing to Sheetrock finishing. It also involves raising a minimum of $70,000 annually from member congregations to underwrite the cost of materials going into the Habitat home, according to Dave Yarusso, a steering committee member and member of St. Michael Lutheran Church in Roseville.

Yarusso, a chemical engineer and product developer at 3M Company, uses a computer spreadsheet to organize workers for various construction phases. Usually volunteers sign up for a week’s work. Crews are composed of members from two or three congregations. Said Yarusso, “Holy Ham-mers is all about partnering.”

Yarusso says the organization is quite efficient, having only about four steering committee meetings a year and doing much of its work of lining up volunteers via e-mail and a Web site. Many volunteers repeat year after year. Many are retirees who have some construction experience either professionally or from their own home projects. However, there’s no requirement for construction experience. And, there are also needs for site hosts and people to prepare lunches for the workers and organize the tool crib. There was a Women’s Build week in June for all-female crews and leaders.

Consortiums of multiple congregations like Holy Hammers are a “huge benefit” to Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity, according to Andrea Cole, volunteer coordinator. She commented that consortiums “pool financial re-sources and volunteers” with minimal oversight. They also bring together an amazing array of talented people, she said.

Lutheran congregations involved include: Christ the King, White Bear Lake; Incarnation, Shoreview; Lutheran Church of the Resurrection, Shoreview; Our Savior’s, Circle Pines; Prince of Peace, Roseville; St. Michael, Roseville; and Shepherd of the Hills, Shoreview.

Financial contributions from members of the 13 congregations are funneled through their home churches and forwarded to Habitat. Murakami says that volunteers signing up are asked for the name of their employer (or former employer if retired) since some companies provide grants to organizations such as Habitat when employees volunteer. They also want to know if workers are members of Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, which makes grants as well as having its own “Thrivent Builds” program.

The consortium also looks for volunteers to work with families after they have moved into their new homes. There people provide guidance on home maintenance and help residents move into the world of home ownership.

Prospective owners of Habitat homes agree to 300-500 hours of work equity in the construction of their new homes.
Readers who are interested in helping construct Habitat homes may contact Judy Murakami at 651/484-7826 (gkmurakami@msn. com) or Dave Yarusso at 651/486-8328 (daveyarus so@comcast.net). Either can also provide help for congregations interested in forming consortiums to share in the work and fellowship with members of other churches.