The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

Retiring pastor, wife share ministry career


Diana Zimmerman

Pastor Dan Schnabel and his wife, Jan, are retiring. Schnabel has been the pastor at both the Cathlamet Congregational and Naselle Congregational United Church of Christ for several years.

Dan Schnabel, the long time part-time pastor at the Cathlamet Congregational and the Naselle Congregational United Church of Christ, has retired.

After 48 years in ministry, Schnabel and his wife, Jan, are ready to focus on other things, namely their family in Vancouver and their property near Castle Rock.

"I got ordained in 1969 and have been working in churches pretty much non-stop ever since," Schnabel said.

Schnabel grew up on a small farm in eastern South Dakota. He received his BA from Lakeland College in Wisconsin and a Master of Divinity at the United Theological Seminary in Minneapolis.

Jan was a pastor's daughter who grew up in Milwaukee, WI. She spent her summers in the Indiana countryside and dreamed of marrying a farmer. In college she met the farmer, but he wanted to be a pastor.

And as it was, when her husband went into the ministry, so did she.

"My prime example was my mother," Jan said. "She was a good role model."

"She is the reason I could stay in this long," Schnabel said. "I don't know what the church is going to do without her, serving meals almost every other week, reading scriptures, doing all the odd jobs that need to be done. She's been a great help. It's been a team effort."

The couple served in Madison, Marietta, and Faribault, MN before responding to an opportunity that would bring them to Washington state. Schnabel was the pastor of a church in Yakima for 15 years before deciding to shift his focus.

He decided to get some extra training and become an interim pastor.

"You need to be able to enter a situation and diagnose what is going on if people are at odds with each other," Schnabel said. "There are things you can do as an interim that you probably wouldn't do as a new minister coming in concerned about job security. When you come in as an interim, you don't care about that, you want to get to the bottom of whatever troubles broke that church apart, and heal it as quickly as you can. Sometimes you are helping a church get over a loss they've suffered or a disruption in personalities that have been there."

It happens enough that there are books written about the matter, according to Schnabel.

"It was interesting work, but it was also exhausting and there was a lot of moving around," he said. "You aren't allowed to stay in a place because they like you."

The Schnabels' children, Jeff and Stephanie, were grown and living in Vancouver, WA when the position in Cathlamet opened twelve years ago. Schnabel gave up the interim work and stepped up to pastor the church. Two years later, he was asked to lead the church in Naselle as well. Even with duties at both churches, it was part time, which suited the couple.

The couple bought six acres near Castle Rock and built a home. Every Friday, they would travel to Cathlamet and on Sunday morning, Schnabel would give a sermon in Cathlamet at 9:30 a.m. and another one in Naselle at 11:30 a.m. They come to town for meetings, funerals, and weddings.

There are now three grandchildren in Vancouver, and the Schnabels travel there each week to pick them up on their early release day, spend the night and get them ready for school the next day.

For a long time, Jan was a dedicated volunteer at the library in Cathlamet. But when it got too hard to get up and down while shelving books, she had to give it up.

Two years ago, Jan was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. The doctor told her she'd had it for decades.

In 1969, she visited the Mayo Clinic because of the weakness in her legs. They couldn't find anything wrong and she left in tears, but she never pushed it.

After the birth of her second child, she began to have problems with her vision.

"I would look out and the bottom half of what I was looking at would disappear," Jan said. "I went to they eye doctor and he said I had neuritis of the optic nerve. He asked me at the time, has anyone mentioned MS to you? He never followed up and I never did anything about it."

Years passed and she had trouble here and there, but it wasn't until she had trouble speaking and problems with her legs and with balance that she asked to see a neurologist.

"It helped explain it," Schnabel said. "I just assumed it was age creeping up. It was good to find out but on the other hand I'm glad we didn't find out earlier. I think it might have affected our family planning. We had our kids and she put in with me as foster parents for about 10 years for the state of Washington. She took care of medically fragile infants for I don't know how many years."

Schnabel confessed that he was 73, though neither of them look it, and it's just gotten to be too much driving and living out of suitcases.

"We'll miss the friendships and the support we've felt from these people," Jan said. "They are very loving, the whole congregation. They took us in immediately."

"We will have another church community in Vancouver but it won't be the same," Schnabel said. "We've been fortunate in all the moves that we've made that we've left on good terms. It's always been tough to leave. We've been fortunate in 48 years of ministry that we've never had a bad experience."

"We're going to quit while we're ahead," he laughed.


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