The Journey from Religious to Secular Organization
The Haven was founded by five Christian churches in 1981. Its religious underpinnings were apparent in many aspects of early Haven life, both symbolic and operational. Meetings of the Board began with a prayer. A center for spiritual growth was added in 1987. There was a life-sized cross laid on its side in the front yard of the old farmhouse as well as the ark and the cross on the original logo. As late as 1996, a Statement of Purpose agreed to by the Board of Directors read that the Haven should be a “voluntary, non-profit, charitable ecumenical association of baptized Christians and other committed persons who are able to work within a Christian network.”
“The Haven was always open to everyone, and there was absolutely no proselytizing,” reports Tom Ketteridge, who was a board member before he became the first managing director in 2000. As the Haven was completing its second decade, grew, and became more connected in the community, questions began to arise. Did someone need to be Christian to serve on the board? What about people who were Jewish? Muslim? Or those who professed no faith but were committed to the Haven’s mission?
Former Resource Coordinator Barbara Henzel recalls the early 2000s as a “soul-searching time for the Haven.” “Although the Haven wouldn’t exist without the ecumenical group that started it, some feared that the cross on the lawn discouraged people from coming for help if their religious beliefs weren’t rooted in Christianity,” she remembers. “There were many long, thoughtful discussions.”
Then, one night, the cross fell over in a storm. “When I went to set it upright, I found the wood had rotted,” says Tom. So that was that: the cross didn’t go back up. “It didn’t change the way we operated. The Haven had always been about treating each person with dignity and respect.”
In the first decade of the new century the opening Christian prayer was replaced by a reflection offered by a Board member. While often still spiritual it reflected a more ecumenical direction or a focus on social justice. By the end of the decade a transition to a secular organization was complete with a change in the organization’s by-laws and new articles of incorporation that made no mention of religion.
Former board member Jane Darrach, who watched these changes, observes that “the Haven transitioned so gracefully from being a mostly volunteer organization to being a much larger, fairly sophisticated organization with many moving parts. It’s remarkable,” she says.
In 2014, the late Paul Feeney, who with his wife, Mary, served as the host couple at the Family Shelter for many years, summed up the Haven’s transition this way: “We started off as a religious association and slowly but surely over the years, transformed into a very broad human association that has engaged people all over the Upper Valley.”