Church as Community Organizer

“I can comfortably say we’ve had thousands of people ready to help.”

Those are the words of the Rev. Morgan Schmidt of First Presbyterian Church, Bend. Actually I should say that those are the words of the minister/community organizer of Pandemic Partners–Bend.

bend pandemicWhen the state banned gatherings and the schools closed, her ministry shifted after her church also shut down normal operations. Schmidt, in her words, “became a social media manager” as she decided to organize a group through Facebook to meet the increasing needs of homebound members who were isolated with the coronavirus restrictions.

Within hours the response was phenomenal and literally thousands of caring, compassionate, service-minded people in Bend signed up to offer their help. They now are nearing 10,000 members since their March 12 start date. You can read the fuller story here at Pandemic Partners—Bend.

But I want to shift you to another church that has played the role of community organizer in this time of crisis. The Session of Yachats Community Presbyterian Church (situated in a lovely, heavenly spot on the Central Coast) under the leadership of the Rev. Bob Barrett voted to seed a GoFundMe account in order to meet the financial needs of displaced workers in their community. With $5,000 in seed money they raised another $15,000 from the community. The first checks to displaced workers just went out.

What both of these stories have in common is that the church acted like community organizers. Rather than feel like the members of the church had to be responsible for all the direct mission that they wanted, they provided the initiative and organizational structure and invited the community to share in mission with them.

seeking kindnessIn consulting with congregations I have found myself encouraging this model more and more. It generally comes during conversations where a church says, “We don’t think we would have the energy to do a soup kitchen or food pantry or run errands for our homebound.” And I say, “Instead of you feeling like you have to do it why don’t you provide the organization and impetus and invite service-minded people in the community to do it with you. Don’t feel like you have to do ministry FOR the community. Do ministry WITH the community.”

The Rev. Morgan Schmidt set up the structure, but the community is doing the actual work of mission. Yachats Community Church made the initial investment, but the community is providing the bulk of the funds.

We are hearing this more and more with regard to the future of ministry. At the NEXT Church Conference some are saying that the ministers of the future will have to be trained as much in community organizing as in Biblical interpretation, preaching and teaching.

We know our congregations have fewer resources than we used to have. We also know that our communities are full of people who want to make a difference and who share our sense of mission even if they don’t share our pews.

Thousands of people responded to the Pandemic Partners-Bend initiative of the Rev. Morgan Schmidt of First, Bend. And thousands of dollars were raised by the Displaced Workers Fund  sponsored by Yachats Community Presbyterian Church.

These are stories worth paying attention to.

We may be seeing the wave of the future.

By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades

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