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There are no lawsuits in heaven, the old joke holds, because in heaven there are no lawyers. But, someday, St. Peter will have to make an exception for Edward Sparkman when he arrives at the pearly gates. After all, he has some friends in high places. For the last 25 years, Sparkman has been a quiet pillar of Philadelphia’s public-interest legal community, logging countless hours of pro bono work on behalf of the elderly and the poor, and spearheading initiatives to make those groups better aware of their legal rights. And for the last 3-1/2 of those years, he has pulled double duty as pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church at 21st and Christian streets in South Philadelphia, tending to the spiritual — as well as legal — needs of his flock. Last month, Sparkman’s two worlds collided when he opened his church to the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Volunteers for the Indigent Program for a Martin Luther King Day legal clinic. Twenty-seven Philadelphia residents received legal advice on issues ranging from housing disputes to government benefits in what will now become an annual tradition at Shiloh Baptist. “I look on my law practice as part of my ministry — reaching out to help people,” said Sparkman, 47. “There has to be some relationship between the social and the legal if we are to have a fair society.” GOING PLACES While there are a handful of clergymen who have left the legal profession for what they felt was a higher calling, Sparkman says he always intended to pursue both tracks. After attending Howard University in Washington, D.C., the Scriptures-quoting West Philadelphia native came north to his hometown to study law at Temple University. Back in Philadelphia, Sparkman returned to the church of his youth, Mount Oliver Tabernacle, as a deacon, and later as associate pastor. He also began to work for Community Legal Services, the pro bono legal aid agency, while still a law student at Temple in 1976. It was at CLS where Sparkman met Margie deMarteleire, then a paralegal and now an attorney with the bar association’s Volunteers for the Indigent Program. That connection was crucial in the planning of the recent legal clinic at Shiloh Baptist. “That’s part of why we hooked up with him,” deMarteleire said. “I knew him from years ago and knew he was a lawyer, so I thought he’d be very receptive.” Sparkman left CLS in 1981 to work for the City of Philadelphia. In 1986, he took on the responsibility that consumes most of his time today as the Chapter 13 bankruptcy standing trustee for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Chapter 13 bankruptcies, better know as “personal reorganizations,” are cases where individuals cannot meet their debt obligations but want to keep some of their assets, such as a home or car. As trustee, a position appointed by the U.S. Department of Justice, Sparkman’s role is to work out repayment plans, collect money from the debtors and dispense those funds to the creditors. But with approximately 8,000 cases every year for him to personally manage, it’s not as easy as balancing a checkbook. “He’s responsible for accounting to the penny every dollar his office receives and distributes — millions of dollars a year,” said U.S. Trustees Office attorney Kevin P. Callahan, who oversees Sparkman’s work. “The requirements … are very staggering.” RESOLVING CONFLICTS As trustee, Sparkman works on behalf of the creditors who are owed money in bankruptcy proceedings. That might be a strange vocation for a man whose other work, legal and ministerial, is devoted to the well-being of the kind of people who might be seeking Chapter 13 reorganizations. But Sparkman insists that his advocacy on behalf of creditors is not incompatible with his concern for Philadelphia’s poor. “A lot of it is making sure people live up to their obligations,” he said. “It’s not about letting people off.” And here, Sparkman capitalizes on an opportunity to invoke the Bible to describe his philosophy of personal responsibility: “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and render unto God what is God’s.” From the pulpit, Sparkman takes a different view of bankruptcy than many of his colleagues in the ministry. “Most of the time, churches said, ‘You’re just trying to avoid paying your bills,’ ” Sparkman said. “ As we can see in this economy, that’s not the case.” Callahan, the U.S. Trustees Office attorney, says that this perspective makes Sparkman one of the “most compassionate” people he has ever met. Bankruptcy Court Judge Bruce Fox, who has met with Sparkman in his courtroom every week for the last 15 years to review bankruptcy settlements, agrees. “He is extremely sensitive to the concerns of both the creditors and the debtors,” Fox said, “and I am sure that sensitivity is affected by his work in the ministry.” THE REVEREND Upon succeeding to the position of associate minister at Mount Oliver in 1988 — while he was already working full-time as the bankruptcy trustee — Sparkman enrolled in Philadelphia’s Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary, scheduling most of his classes late in the afternoon so as not to diminish from his day job. Five years after his 1992 graduation, the pulpit at Shiloh Baptist became vacant, and Sparkman seized the opportunity to lead his own congregation, which now includes more than 200 active members. Legal work figures heavily into Sparkman’s clerical duties. Other ministers and their congregants often approach him for legal advice, and income from his bankruptcy trustee position allows him to conduct his legal work pro bono. And as he goes about his business of writing wills and filing deeds, Sparkman has a much larger goal in mind — to bring together God’s law with that of man. “I think that people have often looked at the legal profession and the religious arena as complete opposites,” he said. “I’m trying to change that thought.” Many in the secular world are wary of a close association between religious and government institutions, as evidenced by the recent controversy over President Bush’s plan to fund faith-based social service organizations with taxpayer dollars. Sparkman doesn’t want to bring the law closer to his religious principles, however, but, rather, use the law to create a better society. “When people think of lawyers, they think of money, not assistance,” he said. “I really wanted to use it to help more people, not as a money-making venture.” And, again, Sparkman cites the words of Jesus Christ to better express his views: “I have come not to destroy the Law,” he said, citing Matthew 5:17, “but to fulfill it.”

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