Pastor Dan Tanner has spent 34 years in Christian ministry, and 29 of those years were spent serving the greater Eatonville area at Tanwax Country Chapel.

After so many years, Tanner decided to retire, having stepped back from the pulpit earlier this month.

"I entered into a relationship with God when I was 17, and I was a grocery clerk for a number of years, then God said, 'You don't need to do that anymore, I want you to do something for me,'" Tanner said. "So I was really feeling called to ministry, so I went to Bible school at the age of 30."

Soon after he felt called to the ministry, Tanner joined a group called Village Missions, which is a rural ministry to America.

"Many places in America used to have a church but, for some reason or other, the churches closed down," Tanner said. "Village Missions was started by a Scottish fellow that came over and he was seeing all these churches that they were closed. He decided he was going to start gathering missionary couples and sending them to these small communities where there is no church."

Village Missions made Tanner lead pastor of a parish in Bliss, Idaho. Starting in 1985, he spent four years at Bliss Community Church, before being placed at a church in Seeely Lake, Montana, where he served for six months.

He said that the time in Montana was short because it just wasn't a good fit, which is fine because he was given the opportunity to serve at Tanwax directly after it became apparent that Seeley Lake wasn't going to be a longterm post for him.

"That's when I came here at Easter time in 1990, so this would be my third field," Tanner said. "So, we are associated with Village Missions. When I came in 1990, right where the gravel pile is, there was a three-stall pole barn. We turned it into a church — sided it with rough sawn siding and it had exposed beams. We had church there for several years. By the time we get to 2,000 we had saved enough money to build (the current) building here."

Under Tanner's watch, the church also built an education building for Sunday school and similar activities centered around Christian education.

Since he was part of a missionary organization targeted at churchless rural areas, Tanner was faced with many jobs that might not be in a typical pastor's workload.

"I tended to wear all hats to begin with," Tanner said. "I'm the janitor, maintenance man, youth guy and whatever."

On the whole, Tanner said he gets his greatest satisfaction from the work he knows God did in his life and the lives of those around him.

"For Christians in general, the highlight is always about our relationship with God," Tanner said. "Just seeing him at work in our own lives, teaching us things we need to know, showing us our need of a savior and the whole purpose of Christ coming. But then, it is just growing in that faith relationship with him."

He said he doesn't believe in coincidences, that everything is orchestrated in a grander plan, deigned by a sovereign and omniscient higher power. Also, he will be forever blessed to have been given the opportunity to lead people and be a spokesman for that power, he said.

"To step into the pulpit and speak to 100 people each week and teach them what does the Bible say about him, what does the Bible say about us, what does the Bible say about our world and what is our purpose here in life, etc. All of that is pretty amazing and like, 'Thank you God for letting me do that.'"

Even through personal hardship, Tanner stayed the course, working dutifully for what he believes is right.

For instance, his wife battled breast cancer for about a decade before eventually succumbing to the disease.

"Losing my wife at age 50, that was, not exactly what I had planned in mind, but God sees you through that," Tanner said. "God saw us through that as a family. I have three girls and they were close to their mom, so it was pretty hard for them which made it extremely hard for me — not only losing my wife but knowing that my kids grieved in losing their mom."

Ultimately, Tanner said he has seen God's faithfulness through what he has been able to accomplish in the community.

When he arrived at Tanwax, he could muster up about 25 to 30 people to attend church in a run-down building. Now, there are up to 100 people attending depending on the Sunday, and many of the parishioners come from the wider region.

"I think a lot of churches in town, 90 percent of their people are right around a church within walking distance," Tanner said. "We are more of a country church — the fact that we are just a wide spot on the highway. We don't have a town. We have people that come from Eatonville, Yelm, Parkland, (etc.)."