"We have made new and important connections to our community."

Primary Media
Ruth Nicholson taking mask orders
Ruth Nicholson, a member of St. James United Church in Waterdown, ON, takes orders for masks.
Credit: David Nicholson
Published On: August 24, 2020

United Churches were among the early adopters of mask-making. Before masks became mandatory and as science increasingly proved that wearing them prevents the spread of the virus, United Churches began to coordinate mask-making ventures. Some churches are discovering that their neighbours are eager to support the initiative financially.

A small group of people who like to sew at St. James United Church in Waterdown, ON, have sewn over 3,000 masks since April.

"We are still sewing nearly every day and getting lots of repeat customers. We mail packages of masks across the country, from Winnipeg to Kingston so far," says Ruth Nicholson, who coordinates the venture. "Beyond simply supplying a mask, we have made new and important connections to our community. We have been able to be a shoulder to lean on, a happy connection to make someone's day a bit sunnier, and a back-and-forth conversation with someone who is afraid or lonely."

The basic masks sewn by St. James United go for a $5 suggested donation―or any amount, based on what people feel they can afford. "We've received up to $100 for a single mask, just in gratitude," says Ryk Brown, the church's minister. Donations from mask purchases have been used to buy grocery cards for people in need and to support migrant workers and the church itself. The financial support has been astounding. "In-house church giving has held steady during the pandemic. Outside giving has hit five digits. All because of one mission project," says Brown.

Alexa Gilmour, the minister at Windermere United Church in Toronto where masks are also being sewn, echoes Brown's experience. "What has been truly eye-opening through all this is how much our neighbours look to the church for leadership at this time. I've responded to many posts where we are tagged by strangers on social media saying, ‘Maybe Windermere United can help' or ‘I've heard Windermere United has free masks and food,'" says Gilmour, adding that the church has seen a boost in volunteerism and financial support. "People have been calling us to ask how they can help. Our Benevolent Fund doubled its usual yearly total by April because neighbours kicked in once they found out it was a way to help keep people fed and sheltered."

"The pandemic is proving that the cornerstone stewardship teachings ‘Gratitude inspires generosity' and ‘Money follows mission' are absolutely correct. The number one reason why people give is because they are aligned with your mission," says Dave Jagger, who holds the United Church's stewardship portfolio. "When people believe in what you are doing, they want to help."

Has your church's mission project inspired generosity during the COVID-19 pandemic? We'd love to hear your story. Drop Trisha Elliott a line at  telliott@united-church.ca .