Imagine never having stepped foot in a church, never hearing Jesus’ name spoken in your home, never opening a Bible and reading the Word of God. For some of us, that can be a difficult idea to wrap our brain around. ...
I interviewed Susan Olson in the church’s toddler room, with its soft-colored walls, plush rocking chairs, and well-organized toys. It was a weekday, strangely quiet without the usual gaggle of busy kids. But still it was clear how much Susan loves the place. She’s served in this room (and its predecessors) without a significant break for more than 40 years.
Susan was a mom of three young children when a pastor asked her in 1977 to take on coordinating the church nursery. Her background as a nurse was something the pastor deemed important. Though she can’t remember a time when being a nurse made a big difference in how she cared for the kids, it started something that has richly blessed her.
Susan says there are two themes that stand out over the decades she has served in Children’s Ministry: change and faithful people. “I didn’t do this alone,” she says; God showed His faithfulness through His people.
“One generation commends [God’s] works to another” (Psalm 145:4) is a biblical principle that guides Children’s Ministry at Faith. In caring for infants and toddlers, that process doesn’t take place in Sunday School lessons and sermons but in embodying the indwelling Holy Spirit and His fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control – and faithfulness.
Susan treasures the times she’s had working with other believers who faithfully served the families and children in the church. There have been too many people to count, but she still mentioned quite a few names during our conversation.
Helen Campbell and Marilyn Klock were Susan’s greatest early influences, discipling her in how to organize and teach children as well as other aspects of godly womanhood. Jean Hill has worked with Susan in the second service toddler room for a while now. She’s also been involved since the days at Fourth Memorial.
When Faith Bible Church began in 1992 and was meeting in local high schools, Susan remembers many members contributed to purchasing the toys and tools they needed for the nursery. A team including Susan’s husband, Mark, continued to haul them in and out every Sunday for several years until the current building was built.
Susan notes that there have also been quite a few children’s and family pastors over her years of serving. But she says each one had a humble heart to serve the families, teach the kids, and learn from the experienced volunteers. Most recently she has loved working with Dan Jarms, Isaiah Mackler, Jess Colvin, Paul Funchess, and now Joe Swanson. She’s also learned wisdom from all of them, such as Paul’s counsel that in the toddler room the main priority was for the kids to feel safe and loved. “Err on the side of love,” she remembers.
About 10 years ago, her husband took a job in Tacoma and they moved there for a few years, so Susan passed her coordinating duties along to Chris Kopp. But even so, Susan traveled back to Spokane once a month and served in the nursery. She would time her visits to be able to help with childcare for the monthly MOPS (the ministry that preceded MomLife) when it met at the church. She enjoyed it too much to be kept away: "If I'm in town and I'm not sick, I'm here."
Now, some of the people she works with in Children’s Ministry are people she previously cared for herself. Her son Steve and his family are among them. Susan’s grandchildren John, Andrew, and Isabel, plus the other teenage volunteers, are huge favorites with the kids.
Serving with her family members, especially her grandkids, has been “the frosting on the cake” for Susan. “They take ownership of the ministry when they're young.”
Many of Susan’s reflections are about how much has changed and continues to change about running a church nursery. The best changes are simply the kids growing and developing.
While Susan has worked with a range of ages, “I'm especially drawn to the toddlers. They are so funny. They're starting to talk. ... When they start talking, that is to me the most exciting part of development.”
She’s watched how kids get used to new caregivers when they move up to toddlers from the nursery. At first, some of the kids are distraught when their parents drop them off. To avoid a tough separation, some parents will try to distract the child, then sneak away. But Susan prefers to let the children know when their parents are leaving, and most importantly that they will be back soon. She’s willing to comfort them through the tears, which usually abate within a few minutes. If a child truly is inconsolable, she can call or text the parent to come back. That way, the kids start to learn to trust that their parents will return, and meanwhile they start to feel at home in “their room” at church.
“If I’m in town and I’m not sick, I’m here!”
Over time, Susan has watched the changes in society and the different ways the church has to adapt to keep the children safe. Safety for the kids has always been at the forefront of her mind. She thinks that might be why she heard many years ago the elders dubbed her “Rambo”: She was protective of the kids and was willing to speak up to get what the workers needed to do their job well.
"As our world became more fallen, we had to have more rules," she says.
Susan remembers the AIDS crisis in the ’80s, when reliable information was scanty and they weren’t sure how easily the disease might be transmitted. She and the elders wanted to keep all the kids safe, but they had to make a policy when an HIV-positive child was brought in. Among other things, it meant they began to wear gloves for all diaper changes.
Requiring background checks for all volunteers was another big change. While she agrees with the need for such vetting, Susan remembers when she used to pick up the phone every Saturday to ask people she knew to serve. Now, it’s all done with computers, phones, and iPads.
Technology isn’t Susan’s strength, so she’s thankful for current children and youth administrative assistant Jenny Wash, who uses the check-in system to keep track of all of the kids, parents, volunteers, vetting, and schedules. Now, all Susan has to do is click a button in an email to RSVP for serving in the toddler room at 10:30 every Sunday.
After 46 years, Susan marvels at how God has kept her strong enough to continue to serve every week. She feels the advance of years, but Sunday is still the best day of her week, worshiping and working with so many friends on the Children’s Ministry team.
"I couldn't have done this without all those dear people, without God. I mean, he just gave me the desire, just like he gave me faith to believe."
Discipleship is a big theme at Faith Bible Church because it’s a big theme in the Bible. No one is exempt from the responsibility to disciple and be discipled as God gives the opportunity. The middle-school and high-school s...