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Serving Newburgh

Classis churches commit to support a Habitat house

Pastors of churches in Orange Classis gathered at Meadow Hill Reformed Church last November and boarded a Habitat for Humanity bus. They were on their way to tour downtown Newburgh, which is about five miles from the church.

Located a little more than an hour north of New York City, "Newburgh is an economically depressed city with a lot of challenges: drugs, gangsā€”a rough city," says Irving Rivera, pastor of Meadow Hill Reformed and one of the tour participants.

Rivera calls Newburgh "a city of contrasts," with burned houses and blighted neighborhoods just a few blocks from its Hudson River waterfront, which is lined with upscale cafés and restaurants.

Habitat needs $110,000 to entirely repair one home, so the Presbyterian churches of the Mid-Hudson Valley are partnering with the classis churches to make that happen. "The Presbyterian Church has been adopting houses and paying for the repairs for many years," says Rivera. "This is the first time for the RCA classis joining in these efforts."

On their tour of Newburgh, the pastors saw many houses in need of repair, some that Habitat for Humanity had finished repairing, and others with repairs under way. They learned that since Habitat started working in Newburg in 1999, the non-profit has repaired 69 homes.

"Rather than spread out to repair homes throughout the city, they repair all of the homes in one section before moving on to another," says Rivera. The goal of the bus tour was to help participants capture a vision for supporting repairs in the next area of Newburgh that Habitat is planning to restore.

At noon the tour group returned to Meadow Hill Reformed for lunch and a talent show. Then Rivera and Michael Otte, pastor of Warwick Reformed Church and head of mission and outreach for Orange Classis, challenged classis churches to raise $25,000 to help Habitat for Humanity repair a home. And the churches have committed to do exactly that.

Habitat needs $110,000 to entirely repair one home, so the Presbyterian churches of the Mid-Hudson Valley are partnering with the classis churches to make that happen. "The Presbyterian Church has been adopting houses and paying for the repairs for many years," says Rivera. "This is the first time for the RCA classis joining in these efforts."

Meadow Hill Reformed itself, however, has been participating in annual Habitat fundraising walks and supporting their work in Newburgh for more than 10 years.

"I started working with [Habitat] because I went on an informational bus tour," says long-time Meadow Hill member Thelma Underhill, a retired registered nurse. "One street was such a derelict, drug-infested street, [its houses] had to be all torn down. Habitat for Humanity is building all new houses up the whole street.

"I worked on houses for a while. Now I do coffee hour for the workers. I've learned [Habitat] is determined to do 50 more houses in five years."

Thelma says she serves as an advocate for Habitat families as well. She comes alongside families to help with practical matters as family members provide the "sweat equity" that Habitat requires them to invest in their houses by helping with construction. Thelma has helped two families: a woman who is a hospital worker and has an autistic son and 10-year-old daughter, and a woman who is a U.S. army veteran and also has children.

Rivera believes Meadow Hill's recent growth in numbers is related to the commitment to service of people like Thelma. In the last five years, he says, the church has grown from just 12 to more than 60 people attending on Sunday.

Meadow Hill has even started planning to plant a church in the Newburgh area where Habitat is repairing homes.

Posted 12/15/13



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