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Thomas & Mack Legal Clinic

March 27, 2015

Preserve the Past to Educate the Future

Boasting authentic board sidewalks, old west saloons, quaint shops, 19th century homes, and historic cemeteries, a visit to Virginia City can take you back in time. In the midst of Virginia City’s Historical District lies St. Paul the Prospector Episcopal Church. Over 125 years old, St. Paul’s is known to Episcopalians as “the mother church of Nevada.”

St. Paul’s, built in 1876, features hand-hewn original pine beams and pews in the semi-Gothic style, and draws tourists interested in the history of Nevada.1 St. Paul’s played a central role in the early days of Virginia City, housing missionaries and even playing host to several talks by Mark Twain. To preserve this history, St. Paul’s congregation began operating a small museum to highlight historical artifacts and teach visitors more about the role missionaries played in the Old West.

While St. Paul’s is undeniably a historical gem and a highlight of any visit to Virginia City, its age is starting to show. The church is in dire need of repair, requiring structural work and an updated electrical system. Unfortunately, the church does not have the funds to address these problems and the Episcopal Diocese of Nevada, which oversees St. Paul’s, is unable to help.2 “Not that the diocese does not want to, but the diocese budget is smaller than the budgets of some of the congregations,” said Bishop Dan Edwards. “We have absolutely minimal resources to work with.”3

Seeking a solution, the Episcopal Diocese sought the help of the Small Business & Nonprofit Legal Clinic to provide legal assistance on the best way to raise funds. Professor Eric Franklin, who founded and directs the Clinic, worked with student attorney Amanda Stevens to explore possible solutions. With guidance from the Clinic, the Episcopal Diocese decided to form a separate 501c3 to manage and operate St Paul’s as a museum. Once 501c3 status is obtained, St. Paul’s will apply for grants to help fund the necessary repairs and expand its collection of artifacts from old missions and churches around the West. The museum will focus on preserving “artifacts from the history of Nevada’s early years, especially the work of missionaries to bring faith and civilization to the frontier,” says Bishop Edwards. “The Comstock was a rowdy place in those days. Introducing religion to a mining camp was a colorful project.”

Amanda helped the Episcopal Diocese form The Western Missionary Museum Corporation and file paperwork for tax-exempt status. Although she had a lot of experience working with small businesses before law school, Amanda had not worked with nonprofits. “Working with St. Paul’s was a great experience. I enjoyed identifying the goals of the museum and figuring out how I could help meet those goals.” Emphasizing that the work with St. Paul’s helped bring legal research to life, Amanda noted that, “doing research is a lot more interesting when you can relate it to an actual client.”

“The work undertaken by the Boyd law school legal clinic, and especially with the agile work of [Student Attorney] Amanda Stevens,” said Bishop Edwards, “is saving Nevada’s history and enhancing Virginia City as both a tourist attraction and a place to learn the history of the Old West.”

1 http://www.stpaultheprospector.com/
2 Saving St. Paul’s: Old Virginia City church struggles to preserve building, Reno-Gazette Journal, February 3, 2013, Susan Skorupa
3 Id. 

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