By Theresa Mason
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Hebrew 13:2
Last Thursday, I sat in the waiting room with people who were waiting for legal services at Park Avenue United Methodist Church as Colleen Beebe Purisaca and two other pro-bono lawyers provided free legal services at their Thursday afternoon clinic. On this one day alone, I saw people waiting from Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Central America.
Attorney Colleen Beebe Purisaca, manager and attorney for the Immigrant Legal Services Program of the Volunteer Lawyers Network (VLN), provides free legal services most Thursday afternoons from 3 to 5 p.m. Park Avenue UMC has partnered since 1997 with the Volunteers Lawyers Network to ensure access to justice for people with legal issues through the provision of free legal services, helping over 8,000 people in its 20 years. She coordinates volunteer help from other lawyers who provide free legal services to walk-in clients from around the world. Non-lawyer volunteers help with intake, make sure everyone in the waiting room is on the list, and help coordinate the flow of the work with the lawyers. Most of the legal clinic’s customers have immigration legal questions.
The clinic provides an amazing ministry of quality immigration services and referrals. This important ministry could be even stronger if people were stationed in the waiting room to offer hospitality—to welcome people and to offer drinks and snacks. I heard one client say to the person next to her, “I wish they had some coffee or something to drink.” Making sure that there are drinks and snacks at each clinic and being present to greet each person as they come in can add so much to welcoming people in a real and concrete way.
We need just two people a week to welcome people and provide something hot or cold to drink and cookies and/or fruit for the people (adults and children) waiting to be seen. This is a place where people from different churches and members of the community can volunteer. As I sat in the waiting room, people from different countries who spoke different languages began to speak to one another and to a baby learning to walk, who toddled up and down the hall and engaged people and drew them together. You can be a part of that rich cross-cultural engagement and make a difference in people’s lives by coming to an orientation and signing up to offer hospitality.
VLN and the Park Avenue Legal Clinic will offer hospitality training on Thursday, Sept. 7 from 1:30 to 3 p.m. at Park Avenue United Methodist Church, prior to the 3 p.m. clinic. The training will include an overview of the services at the Legal Clinic, a basic introduction to legal background on immigration, and practical information about offering hospitality. Those who come to the orientation may stay and help with hospitality on Sept. 7 and/or sign up for different dates. If you cannot attend the training that day, but are interested in being part of a rotating team of volunteers, contact Rev. Theresa Mason.
Note: Volunteer Lawyers Network (VLN) was recently designated as a Minnesota Conference Advance Special. One of the VLN sites is the Park Avenue Legal Clinic at Park Avenue UMC in Minneapolis.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church