Monday, August 20, 2007

Give me Shelter

One of the things that happened early on in my time as a member of our church was that the church had a chance to buy the property that was located between our church and our parking lot. Doing so gave our congregation continuous land from the Christian Ed building/sanctuary, paprish house, this other property and on to our parking lot. Wary of who or what might otherwise locate there was a concern to those leading our congregation.
So suddenly we were the proud owners of a two story house that has been another lawyer's offices. What to do with the property? Our congregation did what is often done when such things arise, we formed a committee. Other than singing this was one of the first things I became involved with. Lots of ideas were kicked around, such as just renting it out, tearing it down and paving it over, among others.
This was one time where as a lawyer I saw a need. I had been practicing for a couple of years and had started to become involved in family law cases, some of which are exacerbated by issues of abuse. Getting a protective order against an abuser is one thing, and the abuser can be evicted from a residence, but this is not as simple as it sounds in real life. what if the only breadwinner just got kicked out and you will not get support money for months? What if you are just too scared to stay because the abuser will violate the order- the law is not enough? What if you are in a bad landlord tenant situation and you need safe housing? None of these need long term solutions when first there is an immediate need.
So I pitched the idea of transitional housing. To my surprise the committee was on board because it fulfilled a ministry role for an identified need. We were able to furnish the apartment from donations within the congregation. I drafted the housing agreement and had it reviewed by a the local district judge to assure its enforceability.
When I became aware of a need, I met with the person, we reviewed what the "rules" of the housing were. We clarified the time which the housing could be used and explained that if someone stayed too long it meant someone else was out in the cold.
With a couple bumps in the road over the last 15 years it has served a valuable purpose. Perhaps my two "favorite" times- defined as being good we have had the resource were:
1. People called me with an apartment that had just been condemned because the roof was collapsing. It had a hole in the roof, the snow was coming through, and had shorted out the electric. The family was heating with kerosene and the daughter was treating for Hodgkins. The 30 days with us allowed the family to pool resources and get a refund form the landlord of rent through the legal process.
2. A client of mine had an alcoholic spouse who was abusive. Even though she got an order for protection my intuition told me he would be back. I convinced her to move with the children to our apartment. He did come back swinging an ax. There was only one way in and out of the apartment. The resident downstairs heard the commotion and called the police- he was arrested. The family was already elsewhere.
We have more recently hosted Mekeshti Turks who are resettling here after excaping persecution.
This was my first foray into real faith in service. Each time I work for the kingdom helping those others would rather not get their hands dirty with, I come away learning more from them than I can imagine


David said...

That's a great story and a great way for your church to do ministry. I'm glad they were open to the idea. Many would have thought it too much trouble.

Gannet Girl said...

This is a wonderful story indeed. I practiced family law for many years and am so sware of the needs you describe.

Do you ever wonder, as I do sometimes, whether God would be better served by your staying with the practice of law rather than switching to the world of professional ministry?

I am able to respond in part, btw, with a recognition that my inclinations and personality are far better suited for work of care via cooperation than care via litigation. But I think I am really blessed to go into ministry with the experiences I had in my legal career under my belt.

Pastor Eric said...

It goes to show that God uses the various gifts within in the body of Christ to advance the kingdom. Like David said, this would not fly in a lot of congregations mainly because the set of gifts necessary are not the same with every congregation. Your legal background was definitely an asset and God used it. Praise God!

LawAndGospel said...

GG, I thought about your question and was asked this in seminary. But the truth is that so much of my time had become devoted to noon-legal counseling, and so mcuh of what I wanted to share with the people I encountered was not in the context of law, but in faith. As you know people do not expect or even want to hear their "advocate" talking about where God is in all of this. That is just a part of the "why not stay in the law" - things like personality, and where your gifts and joy meet are a part of it as well. But like you and the others state, a background was a real resource ( and it will be still). I know that I was blessed to be a part of that program in my home congregation and that in many places it would or could not be accomplished.
Sometimes "trouble" has to do with logistics and sometimes it is about comfort. It takes a lot of prayer to address either. Even if you have a desire to do something the leadership gifts must surface to make it reality.