God-given gifts and a financial windfall for members of a Chicago church

I came across a story about a Chicago church giving away $500 to each of its 300 or so members via CNN's Eric Marrapodi, who, by the way, did an exceptional training session at #RNA2014 on video interview best practices.

Sadly, though, Marrapodi had no tips to improve voices — like mine — made for print. 

But I digress.

The version of the story that Marrapodi tweeted came from WGNtv.com in Chicago:

A Chicago church came into some money following a decades old real estate deal. What to do with the extra dough weighed heavily on the pastor’s mind. Then she decided to do something crazy.
She wanted the church to tithe and give 10% of the money away. That may not sound so crazy, but here’s the hitch, she gave it back — all $160,000 of it–to the congregation. Anyone who is “actively engaged in LaSalle Street Church” got a sizable check. Not $5 or $50 – we are talking $500 a person. Personal checks made out directly to the parishioners to go forth and spend, invest or give away as they see fit. No strings attached.
Pastor Laura, as she’s known, is beaming–ever since she announced to her congregation of 300 back on Sept 7th that they would all get $500 from the church.
“Some started to cry,” she said. “Their mouths started to drop. I started to sweat because it sounded so crazy.”

"Like manna from heaven," the reporter describes the giveaway on the more in-depth video above the web story.

"I've never heard of it, right, but I'm telling you, it felt right," Pastor Laura Truax says on the video.

I have heard of similar giveaways and enjoyed writing about them. In 2010, the North Atlanta Church of Christ (where, coincidentally, I worshiped Sunday while in town for the Religion Newswriters Association annual meeting) split $1.5 million among the congregation to go and spend in the Lord's name. In 2002, 500 church members in Nashville, Tenn., received $100 bills to perform acts of Jesus-motivated kindness.

The WGN story has a buried-the-lede twist at the end that raises more questions than it answers. Paging Dave Ramsey:

This is only phase one. There is still $1.4 million dollars for the church to collectively donate or invest in some way. Some are suggesting ebola clinics, college funds and for some of the homeless and hungry here – that money might be spent on them.
All this from a church with a $50,000 budget deficit itself.

Um, if the church has a budget deficit, why not pay it off?

This scenario reminds me of the joke about a man swept away by floodwaters as he turns down various offers for help and waits for God to save him. The punchline:

When in Heaven, the man stood before God and asked, “I put all of my faith in You. Why didn’t You come and save me?”
And God said, “Son, I sent you a warning. I sent you a car. I sent you a canoe. I sent you a motorboat. I sent you a helicopter. What more were you looking for?”

In the case of the Chicago church, I'm sure there's more to the story than the abrupt WGN ending suggests. And that's the point. The budget deficit needs to be fleshed out in the context of this financial windfall.

Reuters has a separate story on the giveaway, but it doesn't mention a budget deficit.

The wire service story does reference a biblical story, though:

Along with the so-called loaves and fishes checks, named for the biblical miracle in which thousands were fed with a small amount of food, recipients were asked to pray about how they could best spend the money.
"We asked people what they feel they've been called to do," Truax said. She said LaSalle is a strong social justice church, and "we had this amazing opportunity to invest in the kingdom in a big way."
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