It’s not every Saturday you catch me with a giant piece of drywall. Or every Thursday. Or any day ending in “y,” for that matter. But last weekend I found myself in Rainier valley, on my hands and knees, slicing drywall like it was my job.
And it was, for a day. Rainier Valley is one of the poorest areas of Seattle, known mostly for being south of anything worthwhile and north of escaping the city. It’s trapped in that tight place of being both undesirable and overlooked, which is exactly why the Rainier Avenue Church was looking more than a little worse for wear. Despite being a crucial community builder and well-loved house of worship for the Rainier residents, it had fallen into disrepair and needed a makeover. Not a little mascara and brow wax – no, this called for a hand-me-the-scalpel-we’re-going-under-the-knife face lift.
And who better to approach for help with a makeover than a sister? Lucky for this church, her big sister came in the form of a wealthy suburban church armed with people and product. Thus, First Presbyterian Church of Bellevue entered Rainier Valley (along with a dozen other churches they recruited along the way) and I, a member of FPCB, ended up cutting drywall.
To be perfectly honest, I signed up for painting. Innocent, clean, straightforward painting. Besides, I married an expert painter, and if I played my cards right (read: coaxed and bribed) I could end up simply visually scanning walls saying, “Oooh, go over that part one more time. Don’t let it touch the window sill!” Alas, it was not to be.
Contractor: “Okay, looks like you signed up for painting.” (Looks around at ongoing construction)
Me: “Yes, we’re excellent painters. I’m even wearing ugly pants in case of a spill.”
Contractor: “Well…” (looks around again) “…it doesn’t look like we’re ready to paint yet, so how are you with drywall?”
Me: (blank stare)
But really, how hard could it be? Measure, cut, drill it into the wall. This is for amateurs. And, um, I’m an amateur. Besides, I’ve got Mike right there to measure, cut and drill it into the wall, so this is a piece of cake.
An hour goes by.
Contractor: “Well…looks like we need someone over in roofing.”
Mike: “Sweet! I’ll go!”
Me: (Desperate look of helplessness as he walks away)
Two minutes later I’m paired with a woman who looks less than thrilled to be spending a Saturday dry walling. We spend the remainder of the day either silent or passively aggressively fighting over who gets to drill, avoiding measuring and cutting. Drilling is the only fun part of the entire process, the heavenly satisfaction of seeing a wall where there used to be wood framing. I grit my teeth and remind myself this is for charity, for crying out loud. Pull it together, Abby!
After lunch (I’ve never BEEN so hungry) we go back to the room we were working on before, and realize that whoever erected the walls neglected to use a little thing called a level. So the process that used to be measure, cut, drill is now tear down wall, find wood to make level, measure with level thirty times, discover the oldest, most decrepit wallpaper man has ever known, remove decrepit wallpaper, measure, cut and drill.
Somewhere in the process, I hit my stride. My buddy makes a joke about what a lark painting would be compared to this gutting-of-everything, and I laugh. We both realize that, bottom line, work has to be done. It doesn’t matter what part we get to do, it’s just that we’re doing our part. And it’s peaceful, as Anne Lamott once wrote, “it’s monk’s work.”
After all the walls are complete, and Mike and I have gotten ready to leave, I say hello to a young man who says he’s a member of the church. Mike asks him a few questions and discovers he’s from Kenya.
“You came to my church today, and I’m going to your church tonight. Maybe I’ll see you there?” he asks.
Yes, we tell him, and smile as we got in the car to head home.
On the drive home, we marvel at the people crossing Lake Washington today; the members of the Bellevue church going to Rainier to work, and the members of the Rainier church going to Bellevue to worship.
A divine makeover, indeed.