House Build Update – by Naomi Wenger

partially completed prayer chapel

Since 2017, we have been telling you of our desire to build a house at The Hermitage for expanding the resident community and providing housing for staff. We have also been asking you for donations to fund this building project. The journey toward building this house has seemed like a long one to us as we have painstakingly developed ideas and set some aside for what we believe to be better plans. In 2018, we announced that we were set to begin building in 2019. But, the planning phase has taken longer than we expected. We finally broke ground in August, believing that we were ready to begin. However, as we examined a plausible building calendar, we realized that we would be pushing very hard to have the walls completed and the roof on before winter set in. Since we are building with sustainable methods that will help us model how homes can be built for resilience in a period of climate change, the importance of not hurrying the project just to get it done is more significant to us than completing the project on a pre-determined timeline. So, we stepped back and we are now waiting for another building season to begin. In this waiting period, we are envisioning how we can use our own timber to mill siding and trim for the house and casting the net more widely for support for volunteers to help us complete this build. We now are planning to begin in earnest as soon as the ground thaws in the Spring of 2020.

For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, “This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.Luke 14:28-30

Tuesday’s lectionary reading from Luke 14 reminds us that first “sit[ting] down and estimat[ing] the cost” of building is a bit of wisdom Jesus used to measure the fittingness of a person to be his disciple. We feel the gravity of that wisdom as we set about building a house. During this waiting period, we have come very close to meeting the fundraising goal, set in 2017, of $270,000. We have just under $30,000 left to raise. Since 2017, the cost of housing materials, especially lumber and steel, have risen significantly and we may need to extend our goal upward before the project can be completed. So, we are using this extra time to continue our fundraising efforts and to find more cost-effective ways of building the house. These include asking folks to donate labor and help us build the house. To that end, we are looking for 50 volunteers to commit to come for between one and 14 days from May 18 through June 1 (including Memorial Day weekend) to help us complete the mass walls of the house. Volunteers will be mixing clay slip, combining the slip with straw, stuffing the muddy mix into wall forms, moving the wall forms, cooking, cleaning, and other tasks. All volunteers will be fed nutritious meals and we will house you, either at The Hermitage or nearby, if our rooms are full. Then, sometime in August and September, we will need volunteers again to help apply natural plaster to the interior of the house (unskilled labor), create an earth floor (unskilled labor), and do finish construction (skills required).

Counting the cost, for us, means more than having enough money to buy materials and hire professional labor for the job, though it certainly includes these items. It also means that we have the support of the whole Hermitage community to build a sustainable and resilient house that we hope will provide housing for folks for far longer than the St. Joseph’s Barn or The Hanby Center will be standing. Our hope is to build a home that will still be live-able in 500 years and that when the time comes to dismantle it, the materials will simply return to Earth. Of course, we have hard decisions to make as some of the close-to-the-earth products we could use for various parts of the house are out of our price range. So, some items, like windows, will be standard and will need to be replaced over the years. Our hope is that they will be replaced with more sustainable products in the future.

We are doing what we can now to build a house for a new millennium. Will you support us in this effort? If you have already given to support building this house, will you consider a second gift of money or, better, volunteer hours? If you cannot give more, will you consider telling someone you know about the project and asking them to support this effort? Your help is needed for us to be “able to finish” as the wise steward in the Gospel lesson.

For further information about the house, about volunteering or to give, contact David or Naomi Wenger at 269-244-8696. You can also donate online.

-Naomi R. Wenger, November 8, 2019