Anyone can claim to live in the house that God built, but few can say so with more conviction than the Schrader family.
Thanks to Habitat for Humanity--and the manual labor of 16 clergy leaders from different religions and denominations throughout Ventura County--the Schraders will soon have a spacious three-bedroom home in Thousand Oaks.
The pastors, ministers and rabbis volunteered Wednesday to pound nails, shovel dirt and do other handiwork as part of Habitat for Humanity of Ventura County's first "All Clergy Work Day."
In addition to working together for a good cause, the old-fashioned barn-raising effort gave the religious leaders the opportunity to meet one another--and form lasting bonds.
"Us clergy tend to do things separate, but things like this help us connect," said Phyllis Tyler-Wayman, pastor of the Ventura College United Methodist Church. "This is a good way to build community at a time when people are busy with cars and computers.
"Sometimes the clergy do a lot of intangible things, but this is physical labor," she added, taking a break from treating wood with a flame-retardant mixture. "This is concrete. We can see the results right away."
The event also gave the clergy a first-hand look at what Habitat for Humanity--a nonprofit effort gaining momentum in Ventura County--is all about.
"I heard it was a good-paying job," quipped Dennis Merritt, a minister at the Simi Valley Religious Science Center for Positive Living, nursing a badly blistered thumb from a morning of shoveling. "Other than lending a hand, this gives us a chance to see what Habitat for Humanity does so we can share it with our congregations."
Austin Coe, the local church relations chairman for Habitat for Humanity, came up with the idea of a clergy work day for Ventura County after reading about a similar event in a national newsletter. The response was so great that Habitat for Humanity is now planning another clergy work day May 22 in Oak View.
Sipping a Mountain Dew in the shade after a hard, sweaty morning, Bill Hendren, retired pastor of the Church of the Foothills in Ventura, said he felt good about his contribution to the Schrader family's life.
Just then, Debbie Schrader came by with a white tablecloth, asking Hendren and the other clergy to add their signatures for her, her husband and their three daughters to remember fondly during their future dinners.
"This is so great," said Schrader, a Thousand Oaks resident. "We've tried every [affordable] housing lottery that's come up in the past five years, and we've always come up empty. Now we're finally going to have a house of our own."