COVID-19: Small Church Sews and Distributes 1,500 Masks for All


Jim Liberatore, rector of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, shares how his church of 250 has sewn and distributes over 1,500 masks for people in the Greater Houston area with Masks for All.

"I say a crisis is painful and we need to like acknowledge the pain and support each other in the pain. But it's also got hidden in a seed of a tremendous possibility partly because of our guard's down and we might let God do something, and partly because God is always doing something, but we might be able to see it better in a crisis."

Mentioned Resources:

St Andrew's Episcopal Church

Masks for All

Mosaic in Action

Houston Responds COVID-19 Resources


Transcript:

Tommy Rosson:

Hello, this is Tommy Rosson with Houston Responds. Today we're joined by Rector Jim Liberatore with the St Andrew's Episcopal Church. Jim, thank you for joining us.


Jim Liberatore:

Thank you.


Tommy Rosson:

Jim, tell us a little bit about your church.


Jim Liberatore:

Well, our church is small in number at about 250 on a Sunday. But it's mainly driven by service to the community. It's just part of our DNA. Every church has a different personality. That's the personality of our church serving the community. And we've done it with schools. We've done it with hunger. We've done it with hurricane rebuild, which is our latest, where we have brought about 270 people back into their homes after Hurricane Harvey. Doing everything from a complete rebuild to purchasing contents for the home.


Tommy Rosson:

I love that. I just love the math behind that. You have roughly 270 people on an average Sunday, and you've got roughly 270 people back in their home.


Jim Liberatore:

Right. It seems like it is an interesting combination of one for one.


Tommy Rosson:

Absolutely. Well with COVID-19 y'all have had another amazing impact. Tell me a little bit about your mask program


Jim Liberatore:

Well, our agape group is six women, which to me, the leverage of the sixes makes an incredible, that have turned out over 1500 masks now. But originally they started as a prayer group to make quilts for people who were in recovery from some illness or for homebound. And a couple of occasions they made some, especially for people who had had babies. We just delivered one for a new baby. When this started and it was evident that people needed masks, they just started making a mask. I had nothing, I had nothing to do with it. I take no credit for it. They just said, Hey, we need to do this. Well, they started making the masks and as they did, their family members would say, well, I'd like one too.


So they made a few more and then their family members was started talking to the Sheriff's department or a hospital and they're saying, well, you know, we can't get anything at all, so okay, will you make us some? And so they started making them over and over again. And Ben Taub's gotten them and doctors have gotten them all the local hospitals, a lot of emergency centers, some grocery store clerks have gotten them, Star of Hope Women's Shelter, all of the women and all the children got them. So they just went crazy. So this is six who's leveraged to 1500. It's almost like the loaves and the fishes almost.


Tommy Rosson:

Absolutely. You know, we have our Masks for All campaign in which our goal is to get a thousand churches committed to this and we're pretty sure that will add up to a million masks. I know a lot of people have gone, "really?" And I'm like, have you heard some of these stories of how three people, five people, 10 people are doing thousands of masks. That's amazing.


So you all began this about a month ago. And now you're transitioning into also being a part of, your food distribution. Tell me a little bit about the food distribution that y'all have ramped up in the last couple of weeks.


Jim Liberatore:

Well, we have a parallel nonprofit. We started three nonprofits out of the congregation. We have a parallel nonprofit called Mosaic in Action that's doing the storm recovery on the board of Mosaic and Action, was the current leader of Manville Community Outreach at Ruth. And so we contacted Ruth and said, look, there are so many people that need food cause they come by the church. Could we arrange to have a food drop here? And so Ruth talked to the Houston Food Bank. And, lo and behold, a week later we wound up with a food drop here. And part of that is, you know, getting to know your community. You get to know all of these people that know other people and it makes it terrific. So we set up it and we got some Pearland Police to help us with it cause we're right on 518. And to help us with the logistics of it. Then we put out a call for volunteers and as usual, we had to turn volunteers away and the volunteers come from many churches and not just from our church.


Tommy Rosson:

Yeah. That's one of the great things about how you lead and how it's part of your church's DNA to serve that, you know, whether it's this mass program and that more churches are coming to you saying, how do we do this? To the food distribution point. I know y'all have partnered with Crosspoint and other churches in your community. I love how you're not just leading for just to love your community, but also for your church. But also it's for the greater community of Pearland.


Jim Liberatore:

Right. In this last fall, the Pearland Chamber of Commerce named us the member of the year, which they've never done for a church before.


Tommy Rosson:

Oh, that's great. That's great. And we were talking a little bit earlier, tell us a little bit about how you develop this DNA within your church. Because like you said a second ago, you know, you're not the one driving this. This is your people that are driving this.


Jim Liberatore:

Right. Well, it was interesting when I came, the church was very much turned inward. So I've been here 25 years and very much turned inward. And so I said, well, how do I turn it outward? And, my associate, Debbie, and I have been working together for 22 years. So about 22 years ago, we kind of got together and thought about it. And what we did is we basically, "Andy To-Go", which was worshiped in the community to kind of make people think differently. And then we did "Churches Left the Building" where we would cancel Sunday morning church. I'd leave one woman here if somebody showed up, knew to tell them what was going on. So maybe they come back next week and we'd have projects throughout the city. The first go-round I said, just go do work.


So most of the work they did is they, you know, people being people, they, they made sure they didn't meet anybody or talk to anybody. They just did their job and felt good about it. When we did that a couple of times, then I upped the ante and I said, you're going to have to go to places where there are people now. You don't need to talk to them if you don't want to. And so we did that for a couple of years, you know, so they kinda got used to it. Okay, now we're going out and go around a bunch of other people. Then I said, okay, now I want you to go out there and then I want you to meet somebody and come back with a story. Then that story can be nothing other than somebody, their grandparents immigrated from somewhere else or somebody works in a lawnmower repair shop.


I mean it doesn't have to be anything deep, but you had a conversation and began to realize through the sermons that the community is our parish, not the inside of the building and the people are the church. And so we would send people out doing stuff. We would send our youth group down to the beach, they would hand out water, ask people if you want us to pray for them. And then they would, the kids would text me and I would have my phone on the alter and when a text came in, I stopped the service and I say, here's some prayer. You know, so-and-so has got a brother who's in Nicaragua who, you know, whatever the situation is, let's stop and we'll pray for them. So we prayed. Then we go back through the service until another text message came in. And so even the youth got involved with being able to do this. Plus we went on summer mission trips because kids if you get kids to do stuff, it'll often drive the adults to see the importance of it.


Tommy Rosson:

Yeah, that's great. You know, one of the aspects that I love is that you know, you've built it within your DNA and now it's beginning to replicate itself in all aspects of the church. But also, you know, during a time of disaster for many churches, I know my church, responding to Ike, it affected our DNA and helped us shift. And, and you know, many times, as you talked about it, it takes years to go from an inward focus to an outward focus. To do that in the normal lifespan of a church. However, disasters kind of ramp it up, don't they.


Jim Liberatore:

They do. One of my Bible verses that I keep and I just own is Joseph in chapter 50 of Genesis when he said, you know, you meant it for evil, God uses it for good. And I kept, I say that over and over and over again. And the crisis is, to me, I say a crisis is painful and we need to like acknowledge the pain and support each other in the pain. But it's also got hidden in a seed of a tremendous possibility because partly because of our guards down and we might let God do something, and partly because God is always doing something, but we might be able to see it better in a crisis. So I completely agree with you. A crisis is, is you don't want it, but it's a great opportunity to mobilize ministry.


Tommy Rosson:

Absolutely. That's great. So when you look at what your church is doing, you look at the Masks for All, what's next other than just to help encourage them, what does it look like for you with all these people running around doing great works? What is your role in that?


Jim Liberatore:

My role is just to encourage them. I now during COVID, I've named myself the encourager-in-chief. I try not to get in their way and I try to encourage them. And a lot of times people will come up with some good ideas and those we'll just, you know, we'll say, let's go with it. One of the things we are looking at as we move out of this is we'd like to make a commitment to, repair every substandard home in Brazoria County. Because we've met a lot of homes that because they didn't meet the criteria of Ike or Harvey and our funders said they gotta be hurricane-related that we saw people that there's so much we could do to help them to have a home that's safe, sanitary, and secure, which many of them don't have.


Tommy Rosson:

Yeah. And you think about that in the community that, because so many of us get engaged in this after a disaster, especially after a Harvey or an Ike or just the flooding, then you recognize how much that need is out there every day. That has nothing to do with flooding and that people are living in situations that are just not healthy and it just creates a spiral of decline.


Jim Liberatore:

Right? But when you get people into the community, they see this. If you tell them, Hey, out there in the community is this, people will say, Oh, I believe you. But it doesn't, it's not visceral. It doesn't get in your bones. And when people have been out there and said, Whoa, wow, I didn't know this was here. You know, I drive up and down 518 or 35 and I don't see this kind of stuff and now I know that it is truly here and it means something different.


Tommy Rosson:

That's great. Well, I thank you for your time today. Any parting words you'd like to add?


Jim Liberatore:

No, I just dream big. God's got plenty of energy. And start small. As I said, I started with just a little bit of nudge. And so you have to be in this, to me for pastors, you have to be in this for the long haul. And I remember back, probably 22 years ago, 20 years ago, I was talking with Rick Warren when I had gone out to Saddleback and he, he said, I'm not quoting him, but I'm paraphrasing. He said, don't mess with them if you're not going to stay. And so I think congregations, the trust is built over a long period to where you can try some crazy things or some things that push a little bit. And I always encourage younger, I'm an old pastor, but I encourage younger pastors to find that right place to stick with it because you can do incredible ministry.


Tommy Rosson:

Absolutely. When you think about what are our future ministry looks like, there's going to be a lot of freedom to try new things. A lot of unique ways if we will lean into this opportunity, not just dealing with COVID-19 as a crisis in our community, but also it's going to change the way we do church.


Jim Liberatore:

Yeah. And I think, I think God will be happier, to be honest.


Tommy Rosson:

Absolutely. Well, I thank you for your leadership. I thank you for the example that you set and I love the challenge that you've put in front of us. Not that churches of 250 have to do 1500 masks, but the fact that churches of 250 could do a lot of masks number one and number two, it's not, you're just not making masks and putting them in somebody else's box to go deliver them, but you're delivering them. You're seeing the faces, who are going to get to wear them. And that's the part that will keep those volunteers more engaged is when they see the smiling faces receiving them. Or at least somebody in your church can go back and tell them.


Jim Liberatore:

Right. Well, they usually send us a picture too.


Tommy Rosson:

Yeah. That's awesome. Well, thank you so much for joining us.


Jim Liberatore:

Well, thank you. I appreciate it.


Tommy Rosson:

Church leaders, if you would like more stories like this, or if you want to be involved in the Masks for All campaign, go to Houstonresponds.org/covid-19 thank you for joining today.


Additional COVID-19 resources for congregations available here.

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