As the new year opens, members of the Church of the Overcomer in Trainer, a borough sandwiched between Chester and Marcus Hook, want to do more than hold prayer circles hoping that the clock is not rolled back to before the Civil Rights Movement.
To that end, the congregants have started a legal education ministry with sights set on possibly a faith-based legal nonprofit. So, next to the church’s extensive library is a smaller room that has been converted into a law library, featuring donated books from local attorneys and others.
“We already have lawyers who are willing to do the legal workshops and give advice pro-bono or low bono,” said the Rev. Keith Collins, the pastor of the Church of the Overcomer.
“We really want to encourage more Black high school and college students to go into the field [of law],” he added. “We want people to be able to come in here and do the research they need to do.”
Among the workshops envisioned are ones on civil rights, excessive police force, racial profiling and navigating the criminal justice system. Other legal matters to be addressed include lord-tenant, estate and tax issues.
Collins said congregants wanted to establish the legal ministry in light of the church’s legal run-ins with the township over the nonprofit status. He said the church won its case but was not refunded any of the overpaid taxes, with the issue returning to the court.
The pastor was inspired by the work of Mary Chicorelli, founder of the Equal Access Legal, a nonprofit in Philadelphia. He said her organization was helpful to a church member who was being forced into a nursing home and her assets were going to be diverted away from the family. Chicorelli was able to effectively fight to allow the family to care for their aging relative and keep the family estate.
“Many members expressed their legal concerns as the new administration comes in,” Collins said of the incoming president, Donald Trump. “That is why we hope to have this community legal ministry up and running by the spring.
“We have already been meeting and putting things in place,” he added. “It’s important that the church members and others understand things like guardianship.
“I was just impressed with how Mary Chicorelli handled the guardianship and immigration cases through a nonprofit. We want to replicate some of what she is doing,” Collins said.
Chicorelli says that new legal models are emerging as many people are earning too much to qualify for traditional legal aid and are not making enough to pay attorney fees.
“This is a new type of justice based on the sustainable business model,” Chicorelli said of her legal nonprofit. “I am going to be volunteering with Pastor Collin’s church because I believe that we need ways for people to be able to access legal services.
“Our model is not about fighting for grant dollars,” she added. “This is because we have a very low overhead. We do not charge on a sliding scale based on income and family size. We work with people above the poverty level.
“There’s a need to have legal services, workshops and advice for that is affordable,” Chicorelli said.