A radical approach to generosity

A Chicago church turns a large windfall into an opportunity to express its deepest values

Amalya Campbell and Laura Sumner Truax, authors of Love Let Go: Radical Generosity for the Real World

In 2014, LaSalle Street Church in Chicago received a gift that seemed to drop out of the sky: a check for $1.6 million. (Long story very short: It came from the sale of property that the church had invested in with other partners decades earlier.) Most churches would have responded to this windfall by socking it away or paying outstanding bills.

Instead, LaSalle Street Church did something reflective of its character and generosity. The church gave away most of the money, including tithing 10% to the congregation. Each of its 320 active members and regular attendees received a check for $500 with the instruction to do good with it.

Laura Sumner Truax, the church's senior pastor, and Amalya Campbell, an active layperson who teaches stewardship at the church, wrote a book based on the experience, Love Let Go: Radical Generosity for the Real World. We asked Amalya Campbell how the Love Let Go program reflects and shapes her faith community.

What is "radical generosity"?

It is an orientation to the world that allows us to be open and giving, and to be able to see the needs of the world and respond to them. It includes giving money. But it also is as simple as talking to the homeless person who stands outside the grocery store we frequent. Or watering your neighbors' lawn when they're out of town. Or calling the friend who just needs to hear your voice because he or she is going through a hard time. It's about being constantly aware, intentional and deliberate about how we give ourselves and our stuff away.

Why did your church create the Love Let Go program?

We have always been a very democratic church, where everyone has a voice. So giving [part of the proceeds] back to church members to go do God's work in the world, instead of giving to a particular cause or ministry, felt really natural.

"The other thing we learned, and all of us human beings need to learn and relearn, is that we have enough, and we are therefore free to give."

What were some ways members "spent" the money?

Some people gave very personal gifts. One congregant gave the money to a neighbor whose son was a victim of gun violence, to help defray the cost of the funeral.

Then there are stories that are more strategic, if you will. A church member who's an engineer tapped into some lawyer and engineer friends, as well as a local association, to match the gift. All of a sudden he had over $10,000. From that, he created a scholarship fund for promising engineering students in the Chicago Public School system.

What did the LaSalle community learn from this experience?

We were all reminded of God's abundance, generosity and love. This moment was such a clear reminder that God is generous, and that everything we have comes from God. Yes, you work hard, you have your education and your skills. But essentially, those gifts were dropped out of the sky for you, too.

The other thing we learned, and all of us human beings need to learn and relearn, is that we have enough, and we are therefore free to give.

So what's next?

We would love to see the Church with a capital "C" across America, and across the world, really embrace this idea of radical generosity – loving our neighbor without reservation. We hope Love Let Go reminds people that they live in a world of abundance, and that they have something of value to give, and that their surplus is for someone in need.

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