By Hannah Shepperd
On May 31, Revs. Cara Scriven and Melinda Giese shared a virtual sermon with their congregations — Puyallup and Summit United Methodist Churches, respectively. The two churches have worshipped together since March, but this Pentecost Sunday marked a more official joint fellowship. After nine months of conversations, followed by a vote delayed by COVID-19, the churches voted to merge.
Puyallup United Methodist Church traces its origins back to 1853 and greeted their neighbors at Summit United Methodist Church in 1903. Both churches have seen remodels and construction over the years, with their current buildings just four miles away in western Washington.
Rev. Scriven shared the congregation’s continuing focus on community needs, which lives itself out in various projects like Freezing Nights, an emergency winter shelter, and partnerships such as a recent one with a local elementary school. Another example of this focus was the establishment of the Puyallup Playcare Center in 1968. Originally, this ministry was “for migrant families who came to work the farms and later became its own non-profit that focused on affordable childcare for the community.”
Throughout their history, Summit UMC has also served their community through the Summit Methodist Preschool, tutoring programs, Habitat for Humanity outreach, and a food bank garden. Summit has also been active in the Freezing Nights shelter Puyallup UMC helped establish. A final service honoring the church’s history was held on Sunday, July 19, with Rev. Giese recording her sermon from the Summit UMC sanctuary.
Discussions surrounding a possible merger began late 2019. While the churches planned to vote in February of 2020, they were delayed because of COVID-19 safety concerns.
Rev. Scriven shared the altered plan, which resulted in a mail-in ballot: “While we began sharing worship together not long after the stay-at-home order, we didn’t vote on a merger until the month of May. On Pentecost, we shared the voting results with the congregation.”
During this Pentecost celebration, Rev. Giese reflected on the original conversation that sparked talks of a merger. “‘Would Summit ever consider selling our building?’ That question provided us with a spark to get conversation going.”
Rev. Giese recalled that the idea initially seemed unlikely. “At first, leaders at Summit did not want to make any significant changes; they love their congregation, traditions, and ministries.” As conversations with the church council and congregation progressed; however, leadership realized “it was the people that mattered at Summit, it wasn’t the building that was our highest priority.”
Rev. Scriven shared that how the merger came to the table is unclear, but Puyallup’s focus was not. “The question that we began to ask was ‘can we do this well?’”
This question led to ‘A Leap of Faith’ from both churches and the subsequent Pentecost sermon title.
During this celebratory service, Scriven revealed that the Puyallup congregation returned 72% of ballots, all voting ‘yes.’ Giese also reported an “overwhelmingly positive response” from Summit with 83% ballots returned, and 98% voting ‘yes.’
Rev. Scriven will continue to serve as Lead Pastor of Puyallup UMC, with Rev. Giese as the Minister of Discipleship and Pastoral Care.
While the now-merged Puyallup UMC cannot worship in-person due to COVID-19 guidelines, the congregation is able to interact online. The church hosts virtual conversations, bible studies, and communion via Zoom. Their worship services are recorded and posted on their website and social media channels.
In the May 31 service, Giese paused before closing to reflect on the unexpected simplicity of the process. “When is the last time you heard of a potentially divisive issue passing with almost unanimous approval, amid a pandemic, no less?”
Worship videos from Puyallup UMC are available online each Sunday by 9 a.m. (PT).