Church: Spirit River Community UMC - Isanti
District: Big Waters
Submitted by: Rev. Jim Crecelius
For new Americans, navigating landlord-tenant relations, understanding child custody laws, and filing taxes can be difficult and complicated. Even worse, it’s sometimes hard to know when legal help is needed, and the cost of such services keeps many people away. Consequently, a lot of new U.S. citizens end up with unanswered questions.
Spirit River Community United Methodist Church in Isanti is a social justice-seeking community. So when this problem came to the attention of member James Dehn, an Isanti County district judge and member of the 10th judicial district equal justice committee, he came up with “Ask-A-Lawyer Day.”
The event brings together lawyers from many different practice areas. Anyone can come and ask his or her pressing legal questions free of charge. Spirit River Community offered its building for the event, and by promoting the event around town and through its other outreach programs, its leaders and members effectively spread the word.
When the event started two years ago, Dehn recruited some 14 lawyers from the area to volunteer one entire morning of their time to give free legal advice to community members. Church members volunteered their time to check people in, provide hospitality, and talk with visitors to determine which of the lawyers they should see (and in some cases, it was three or four lawyers based on their areas of concern).
The inaugural “Ask-a-Lawyer Day” event, which took place in 2011, drew 125 people who asked in excess of 400 legal questions. A Spanish-speaking interpreter was present, as was an Internal Revenue Service tax advocate. All visitors signed a waiver so that there was no legal liability for the church or the volunteer lawyers. After seeing how helpful the event was to attendees, some lawyers stayed after it had officially ended to continue consulting with people.
Last year, at the second annual “Ask-a-Lawyer Day” (which took place around Easter), roughly 100 people came through Spirit River Community's doors to receive legal advice.
Given that there is an ongoing need for this service in its community, Spirit River Community plans to continue the event, perhaps even increasing its frequency to two times annually, depending on the availability of the lawyers. Future events will take place at non-holiday times of year, which organizers expect will yield an even greater turnout than the one in 2012.
Rev. Jim Crecelius, the pastor at Spirit River Community, says the church has always sought to be one that makes a difference.
“Since we started, social justice and community building and support for the least, the lost, and the left out has been part of our DNA,” Crecelius says. “This fulfills our understanding of what it means to be the church. We want to be Christ with skin on.”
Learn more about Spirit River Community.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church