Back

Busy Behind the Scenes

Willena Dannen serves Faith's children, office, and library

Busy Behind the Scenes
Willena Dannen was honored with flowers along with other Children’s Ministry workers at their appreciation dinner in May.

Walk through the offices of Faith Bible Church on a weekday, and you might see Willena Dannen at work. But you probably won’t hear her.

Willena doesn’t like to draw attention to herself or her service. Everyone connected with the Children’s Ministry would feel the difference if she didn’t serve, though: The water pitchers in the classrooms would be dirty, the crayons would be broken, the glue sticks dried up and the pencils dull.

And the 3-year-olds would be short an adoring Sunday School helper. Without children of her own, Willena cherishes the time. “I’m their mother for one and a half hours once a week,” she says with a laugh.

Generations of care

To clear up one misunderstanding that comes up all the time: Yes, Willena is distantly related to Earl Dannen, Faith’s late counseling pastor. But no, she didn’t know him before she started attending Fourth Memorial Church in the late 1970s.

And since those days, before Faith was even founded, Willena has been caring for its children. With occasional stints with other age groups, she’s been in the 3-year-olds Sunday School class so long that she now frequently has her former students’ children.

"I love kids. God didn't allow me to have any of my own. So I have a huge family here."
—Willena Dannen

She loves being there every week to see the children’s development throughout the course of the year. It’s rewarding to see them grow, not only in size but in vocabulary and in understanding of how class time works.

And God clearly made each one unique: “It’s very interesting to see the difference in children in the same family, because there are a few families here that I’ve had every child.”

Over the years, Willena has also served in different ages of child care for Wednesday nights, MomLife and “various and sundry activities.” These days, physical limitations make her no longer able to pick up the kids. But that’s no problem working with the 3-year-olds, who are able to climb up in her lap on their own.

She served in the classroom with Andi Widman and Judy Bell for many years and appreciates all she’s learned from them and others. Watching them is one way Willena has learned how to deal with kids who are struggling get along with the rest of the class.

“I found out that for a child that is having an issue, to set them on your lap and talk to them quietly, and let them decide when they want to become part of the class. … Just quietly be with them one on one, and eventually they just crawl off my lap and they're fine."

One year, she moved up to the 4-year-olds class to work with the same group of kids another year. She got so attached to the children that it was too painful to part with them when that year ended. “I will never do that again,” she says.

She has an idea what it feels like for parents whose children move out. But the good news is every year she gets a whole new group to love.

Sharpening pencils for the Lord

Willena’s work for Children’s Ministry goes beyond Sunday mornings with the kids. She comes to church nearly every Monday and Thursday to prepare the child care rooms for the upcoming Sunday.

She goes through weekly, monthly, and yearly checklists to make sure each room is stocked and ready: She sorts through the crayons and removes the broken ones. She washes the water pitchers and wipes down the cabinets and shelves. She makes sure there are snacks, cups, Kleenex, craft supplies, diaper wipes, etc. She sharpens dull pencils.

Willena also prepares the birthday cards that are sent out to the Sunday School kids. She gets their teachers to sign the cards the week before their birthday and then mails the cards at just the right time.

And she doesn’t mind the repetitive tasks in the least. “I’ve always been busy,” she says. “People have said, ‘She’s over 100%.’”

Unsurprisingly, 2020’s building shutdown and restricted reopening during the pandemic were extremely difficult for busy Willena. Missing the children and being home alone was rough.

“I cleaned my house, and I got rid of everything I had not used in the last year.” But that could only take so long. She kept from going crazy by keeping her hands busy with cross stitching and quilting.

It was a huge relief when Children’s Ministry activities finally resumed, not only to be with the kids but to get back to work behind the scenes.

Book keeping

Willena began volunteering to help with the church library around 2006, when she retired from a long career working for Spokane Public Library. Upon her retirement, Earl asked her to use her skills to help Debbie Gilchrist, who had set up the library.

The library has changed over the years and narrowed in the number and types of books available, but Willena still fastidiously keeps track of every book. In the Connection Room, near the books for sale at Tribe, there are still several large shelves of library books, mostly donated to the church over the years.

A few years ago, the library’s Bible commentary, foreign language, and preaching books were moved to Room 261 – closer to where The Master’s Seminary meets in the Education Wing – for the convenience of the students.

But Willena wants the church to know all of the books are still available for all Faith members. They’re easy to sign out and to return, and Willena reshelves them in their appointed spaces using the Dewey decimal system. People who don’t bring them back may get a friendly postcard or call from Willena when the book is overdue.

Willena sorts through donated books to check whether they were already in the library or were by an approved author. If not, she’ll pass them along to the operations pastor for a decision. When people want to donate, she prefers to ask for a list of titles and authors first so that the church won’t need to dispose of books that don’t fit the church’s criteria or space.

And since she’s in the office so often, Willena also throws herself into whatever odd jobs need to be done there.

But Sunday school is her sweetest service. Her heart still melts when one of her little ones sees her and runs across the foyer for a hug.

"I love kids. God didn't allow me to have any of my own. So I have a huge family here."

Other Recent Posts