Jenae Harris and Carol Bros from Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services (SMRLS)
By Randi Ilyse Roth
Rev. Carl Walker of Morning Star Baptist Church said in an interview with Interfaith Action last October, “My ministry used to be about tending to my congregants’ spiritual lives in the church. Now it’s about tending to my congregants’ economic survival outside of the church.”
Rev. Walker decided to do something about it. He reached out to see what resources he could bring to his community to make a difference.
Sometimes efforts undertaken by houses of worship do not cross-pollinate well with efforts undertaken by secular nonprofits. Each can lack knowledge about what the other is doing and contributing. Rev. Walker, though, has been invested deeply in both the secular and religious institutions in his Selby Avenue community. As the co-founder and board member of the acclaimed Walker West Music Academy, and as a long-time board member of Ujamaa Place, he has a long history of being comfortable and active in both worlds.
Rev. Walker listed some of the issues his congregants are facing—issues that he could better help them with if he could bring expertise and professional services right into the church community. The issues include:
- legal issues, including wills, evictions, foreclosures, tax issues, and senior law issues
- re-entry issues when incarceration ends (housing, jobs)
- getting an economic foothold (earn enough to meet basic needs and realize dreams)
- financial issues (protect earning from from payday lenders and situations that drain resources unnecessarily, and establish and maintain banking relationships)
- domestic violence (protect themselves from harm, and learn to be better friends to each other)
- basic needs resources (shelters, food shelves, etc.)
Growing out of conversations with Interfaith Action, Rev. Walker chose to work closely with us, Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services (SMRLS), Lutheran Social Services (LSS) Financial Counseling, and Sunrise Banks to bring knowledge and resources directly to his church members and their neighbors. How did he do it? As in so much of what Rev. Walker does, study and music are the keys.
Walker decided to substitute “Community Power-Ups” (CPUs) for Wednesday night bible study one Wednesday night per month. Studying the bible is critically important, but for Walker, studying how to survive and thrive so you’ll be able to study the bible is critically important too. In the Community Power-Ups, key resource providers in the city come to the church basement and teach about how ordinary citizens can find the resources to deal effectively with the problems listed above.
The first CPU was held on January 20. Geoff Bullock from LSS Financial Counseling presented a brilliant study session about budgeting and debt. Sunrise Banks VP Terri Banaszewski presented about affordable financial tools that Sunrise offers to help low-income people cash checks, develop savings, and develop good credit scores. And Jenae Harris of SMRLS presented about the range of services community members can get at legal aid, ranging from representation in landlord-tenant matters to advocacy in the public benefits application process to expungement of certain criminal records.
And what about the music!?! The rule at the CPUs is that the presenters never speak for more than 15 minutes without breaking for a musical interlude. Interfaith Action board member Louis André Fisher is the Executive Director of Twin Cities Mobile Jazz Project. He sent top-notch musicians to perform at the first CPU: Walter Chancellor Jr. and Brian Nielsen, an act which could likely sell-out the Dakota Jazz Club. And, finally, what about dinner? Sunrise Banks, a deep and committed partner to local community development efforts, contacted one of the bank’s restaurant clients, Colossal Café, and covered the cost of the delicious hot meal.
The next CPU is scheduled for February 17 from 6-8 p.m. at Morning Star Baptist Church in the Fellowship Hall. The music promises to be on par with January’s, and the food should once again be great. The topic in February will be legal aid with a focus on landlord/tenant issues (tenants’ rights for repairs, dealing with evictions, and eviction expungements). CPUs are free and everyone is welcome to attend. RSVP is not required, but will help us with food planning. For more information or to RSVP, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Randi Ilyse Roth