On a very memorable Sunday, Pastor Laura Truax surprised her Chicago congregation with a bold announcement: She was about to hand out money to everyone.
Not a huge sum, but the pastor said the LaSalle Street Church had received a tidy $1.6 million from a real estate deal, and $160,000 — a typical 10 percent tithe — would be divided among some 320 regular attendees. Each would get a $500 check to do something positive for anything or anyone, including themselves.
It was an unorthodox gesture, but Truax notes, LaSalle is “a gutsy little church” with a history of making waves around socially progressive causes it embraces. In 1972, when it stood in the shadow of the now-demolished Cabrini Green housing project, the church established a criminal defense legal aid clinic for the poor.
Decades later, LaSalle remains an activist church, doing everything from feeding homeless families on Wednesday nights to buying an ambulance for a medical clinic in Niger. The non-denominational congregation is racially and economically diverse: More than 60 percent of members have advanced degrees; about a third live paycheck-to-paycheck.
Not surprisingly, many donations from the congregation will reach far-flung places, including a school in the Himalayas, a health clinic in Uganda and an irrigation project in Tanzania. Closer to home, some checks are going to families and friends in financial trouble.
Church members, Truax says, are doing just what she’d envisioned when she distributed the checks that first Sunday in September.
“I hoped that they would recognize the power they had to bless others and change somebody’s life,” she says. “I hoped that they would see their connection between their little piece and the bigger thing the church was called to do, that they would feel like they actually had some skin in the game, some prayers in the game. And that has largely happened.”