The Ridgefield Press
Written by Dave Sigworth, Jesse Lee Methodist Church
Wednesday, 16 March 2011 04:52
Some of the “Spirit Builders” from Jesse Lee Memorial United Methodist Church with Irene Pierce of Hayes Lane and her new access ramp: from left, George Woodring, Bruce Kohl, Christian Figueroa, Dan Winward and Peter Seirup.
For five years, a group of members of Jesse Lee Memorial United Methodist Church led the congregation in remodeling of the church’s Carriage House, the construction of a new chapel and improvements to a parsonage.
That work is done, so Jesse Lee’s volunteer construction ministry has now become the church’s “Spirit Builders,” a group willing to take on modest projects for those in need in the community.
The “Spirit Builders” also want to show other churches how to start similar programs.
“What we accomplished, and what we experienced in reaching that accomplishment, was truly a blessing,” said Elizabeth Rabinowitz, who has been involved in the construction ministry from the start. “Now, as one of the ‘Spirit Builders’ mission statements says, we want to be the hands and heart of Christ to people in the community who are experiencing difficult circumstances and who are in need of modest home-improvement assistance.”
One of the first projects for the “Spirit Builders” was building an access ramp last month at the Hayes Lane home of Irene Pierce, a longtime Jesse Lee member. Ridgefield Supply Co. generously discounted the price of the wood for the ramp.
A newly formed advisory board, led by Senior Pastor Bill Pfohl, will receive and manage requests for future projects. To confidentially inquire about a potential work project, call Mr. Pfohl at 203-438-8791.
Jesse Lee’s construction ministry began in 2006, when the church purchased the adjacent former International Order of Odd Fellows lodge. A three-year capital campaign raised enough money to cover the mortgage but only a limited extra amount for desperately needed repairs. So church members decided to do all the extra work themselves.
A skilled core team came together, working each Thursday on all phases of construction and also leading the larger congregation in the labors on the first Saturday of each month.
Over five years, the Odd Fellows Lodge was transformed into the church’s Carriage House, with meeting spaces downstairs and a residence for the youth minister upstairs. A decrepit building in the back was consecrated into a lovely new chapel. The church’s parsonage on Tanton Hill Road got a needed facelift, and a handicapped restroom was created in the main sanctuary building.
Except for plumbing, electrical work and help installing a 37-foot, 2.5-ton steel beam, all of the work was done by church members.
What at first looked like an insurmountable challenge became a source of pride and deeper community within the Jesse Lee congregation. A higher power seemed to be supporting the work, when repeatedly the needed tool, material or extra hand turned up, Ms. Rabinowitz said.
“Our faith has been transformed through these projects, which is why our motto is not only ‘Resurrecting Buildings’ but also ‘Transforming Lives,’” she said. “We speak more openly about God’s presence than before. We recognize that we didn’t accomplish this on our own.”
Hoping to help the leaders of other churches tap into their congregations’ hidden construction talents, the Jesse Lee “Spirit Builders” are planning weekend seminars April 1-3 and May 13-15 at Camp Epworth, a United Methodist retreat in High Falls, N.Y. The retreat is planned for church pastors, trustees and leaders “with a passion to build.”
Topics will include: building a core team of leaders, planning the project, setting a realistic budget, sharing skills, building enthusiasm and feeding the workers. Cost of $65 includes two nights lodging and meals. To register, call Carole Stathis at 203-733-7794 or send an e-mail to[email protected] .
To learn about the “Spirit Builders,” prospective members may join in on their current work project each Thursday. They’ll also continue to lead the Jesse Lee congregation in work projects on the first Saturday of each month. Construction skills aren’t required; those who are more experienced will help new volunteers.
“They are a group that accepts you as you are, and strive to work with you very patiently to teach you carpentry, building or painting skills that you didn’t realize you were even capable of doing,” said Jesse Lee member Wendy Owens.
For more information, visit thespiritbuilders.org or call the church at 203-438-8791.