The Common Good
December 2009

Six Questions for Rev. Laura Sumner Truax

by Jeannie Choi | December 2009

Serving the community of LaSalle Street Church in Chicago.

  1. Tell us about LaSalle Street Church. LaSalle is on the north side of the downtown area. Built in the late 1800s, it was a church-plant of the Moody Church. As the Italians later moved out of Cabrini-Green (the large public housing complex in the neighborhood) and poor black people moved in, Moody Church wanted to close the church down. The pastor at the time, however, believed we had to stay. It was a brave move by that congregation.

  2. What does the neighborhood look like today? Today, gentrification has hit the near-north side like any other area of desirable real estate. We don’t face just monolithic housing complexes for the very poor—we face a real variety, from two-wage families, displaced poor people, subsidized units, and market-rate units.

  3. What do you do to serve this diverse community? We’ve had a senior ministry designed to meet the needs of some of the most invisible people of society. They are just trying to get their prescriptions, develop a little bit of outside community, and get food to eat. We had a hand in putting up a 307-bedroom complex for seniors who live on less than $25,000 a year. We’ve also been instrumental in meeting their basic everyday needs.

    In 2003, we started our Breaking Bread ministry. I got a phone call about a guy living on the street between our church building and an apartment complex. I went and talked with him for hours and discovered he was newly homeless. We helped him get into some sustained short-term housing and provided him with immediate needs. That’s what Breaking Bread does. More than 100 people meet on Wednesday nights for a sit-down, family-style dinner. It’s intentionally conversational, and our church members find out how they can help through legal assistance or by linking guests to supportive services.

  4. Why does your congregation have such a strong heart for justice? I can’t really take credit for that. Justice was a part of the ethos of this church long before I came along. My first experience with LaSalle Street Church came in the early ’90s, when my husband—a lawyer—got a call from a mom whose son had been wrongfully arrested for first-degree murder. When that case went to trial, I saw people from this church caring for this family. Today, I feel like I am formed by this congregation as much as they are allowing me to speak into their lives and form them.

  5. Where did your own concern for justice come about? I’m from the South, and I spent the first 25 years of my life believing that if you’re poor, it’s of your own making. It wasn’t until I moved to Chicago that I became aware of this matrix that keeps people poor—that there were people who longed to better their lives for their kids.

  6. What gives you hope to continue your work? I went on a 10-day silent retreat a while back. On day eight or nine, I was praying, and I kept bringing up these really sad, gripping issues. Suddenly God said, “Laura, I’ve got it.” God loves these people more than I could ever love them. It doesn’t rest on my shoulders; it rests in the arms of the God who called it into being and who is going to redeem it all.

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