In one day, everything changed for Whitewater Church in Puyallup. Like so many other organizations, COVID-19 impacted Whitewater in a major way and left the group with lots of questions: How would they reach their members? How would they serve their community?

As some struggled to understand how to respond to the pandemic, Whitewater’s motto became, “We were made for this!”

Whitewater’s hope is to truly be a church that is learning to do the things Jesus would do, and care about the people Jesus cares about.

Church volunteers focus on community projects. Photo courtesy of Merit Construction Northwest.

Lead Pastor George Bedlion put a hold on services before it was required to do so and started staff working on an online presence. Whitewater’s desire to be inclusive and a place of hope challenged anyone watching online to reach out to others who might be feeling overwhelmed or alone. “It’s never been easier to invite someone to service. Just forward them a link,” said Worship Arts Pastor Michael Rabb.

Before Whitewater transitioned to its first online service — held on March 15 — a survey had been sent to its congregation to help understand the needs of the community and strategize together to serve the community in multiple ways.

One thing Whitewater does well is look for the bright spots. For example: What are people already doing well that they can partner with and make a greater impact?

Whitewater developed a delivery service with church volunteers and teamed with the Puyallup Food Bank to make needed deliveries of food and other supplies. They delivered food for kids in the Puyallup School District through an organization called Backpack Kids. And they were able to deliver materials as well as completed masks in conjunction with Step by Step, which made masks for those on the frontlines of the pandemic.

Another strength of Whitewater is loving people. Whitewater also assembled a team of volunteers and called close to 1,000 people to check in on them to see if they could meet any practical needs or if they would like prayer over the phone. The church encouraged every member to reach out to their neighbor and check in on them. They also trained a team of volunteers, giving them skills to listen and assist with emotional needs. Part of this training and outreach included preparing a list that included counselors, crisis lines, a grief-processing activity to navigate the effects of COVID-19, and coping strategies.

Additionally, Whitewater recognized the need for social interaction and encouraged group leaders to engage via Zoom, hosting online social hours themed around cooking, exercise classes, parenting classes. Pastor Bedlion even host a weekly spiritual question-and-answer session. Whitewater’s younger members have been actively engaged in crafts, exercise, and learning every week and have even had remote show-and-tells.

In a time that feels uncertain for all of us, it is so encouraging to see that the church is not just a building, it is people serving and loving people.

Tammy Birklid is the principal at Merit Construction Northwest.