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Morgan Schmidt, Pandemic Partners

According to Morgan Schmidt, the world is full of kind people. She found a way to crowdsource kindness.

When the pandemic is over, you might want to go out dancing. If you dance to West-Coast Swing music in Bend, OR, look for the enthusiastic woman wearing horn-rimmed glasses. You’ll want to get to know her. But be warned. If it’s Saturday night, she might leave early. She leads worship on Sunday morning.

If you’re lucky enough to meet Morgan Schmidt on the dance floor, know that she is changing the world in her own small way. She found a way to crowdsource kindness during the coronavirus pandemic.

Doing More Than Broadcasting Church Services

Morgan Schmidt is the Associate Pastor for Teens & 20-Somethings at First Presbyterian Church in Bend, OR. On March 12, the church staff met to discuss how they would continue in the face of the pandemic. First, they decided to move services online.

“Church isn’t just about Sunday morning worship,” Morgan says. “For us, it’s about connecting and caring for the community. We were brainstorming, what could that look like. My colleague, Becca, brought up this idea that families should identify a pandemic buddy family. So, there’d be two families who could help each other out.”

Morgan latched onto the idea. “Pandemic partners! That’s a great idea. We should just start a Facebook group. People can ask for help, and they can offer to help.” So, the group Pandemic Partners was born.

Morgan admits that, before March 12, she didn’t know much about Facebook Groups. She mostly used Facebook to share pictures of her three-legged golden retriever, Buddy. “The crazy thing is, I invited people that I know. A couple of friends did the same thing. We grew to about 3,000 members in twelve hours.

“There was no strategy or promotional marketing. We hit at a time when emotions were starting to run high. People were looking for something, for anything to ground them.”

Most of the people who signed up first offered to give help. “I think that’s natural in the midst of something that makes us feel powerless,” Morgan explains. One of the first requests on the site was from a mom who had an immunocompromised child. She simply asked for local honey and lemons. “We watched that request get fulfilled in the blink of an eye. It was moments like that, that told me this was going to be something special.”

The group in Bend exploded. There are almost 12,000 members, about 10% of the population. Then, nearby communities reached out. They wanted to set up a Pandemic Partners group. Morgan quickly set-up a website and a Google Drive folder with documents and videos. She has personally coached more than 20 local groups, including a group in Australia.

Morgan Has a Heart for Service

“I went to kind of a weird seminary, The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. As I was there, they were rolling out a new organization called The Parish Collective. That’s a group of people who are focused on being good news in their community. What does it look like for the church to be a catalyst for good news?

“It’s not just spiritual. It’s economic and social. It’s about justice and inclusion of all people. It’s about making sure our neighborhoods can thrive. We only succeed when everybody’s thriving. I was deeply formed by the neighborhood movement of the Parish Collective. I’ve also done work with the Global Emersion Project. We train people to be everyday peacemakers. You can learn to see everybody with dignity and humanity.

“So, I think there have been these voices that have built into me over the years. This is how I see the world by default.”

Morgan does not conduct business as usual. On Sunday night, First Presbyterian Church offers a beer service called Tap. “We’re in Bend,” Morgan explains. “Beer is a thing here.

“One of the focal points of Tap is, we have a bulletin board. Half of it says, ‘If you need something, ask.’ The other half says, ‘If you can help, offer something.’ It dawned on me after setting up Pandemic Partners; essentially, I took that bulletin board and made it a Facebook group. It obviously struck a chord.”

Lesson Learned about Resilience

“We get used to doing our work in certain ways. It has to manifest in specific ways. We meet at this time with these people. This is what we do.

“When your world turns upside down, when reality shifts suddenly, the resilient part is being able to reorient. Reorient yourself around, ‘What’s the heart of this?’ The heart isn’t the where, what, who, or when. The heart is why. Why do I do what I do? If the answer is, ‘I do what I do to be good news in the community,’ there’s a million ways to do that.

“That’s what’s made me resilient at this moment. I focus on ‘What is the heart of this? What has the possibility of changing the world?’ For me, that’s embodied love. That’s just worked out to be a Facebook group.”

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