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Co-pastor looks fondly on 'a very fulfilling calling'

NIAGARA FALLS - What's the best job?

Clergyman, according to a study of nearly 200 occupations.

"Are clergy persons happy, and is ministry the 'happiest' occupation?" poses the Rev. Wesley Bourdette, co-pastor of Niagara Falls' First Baptist Church, who should know, having received his "calling" more than a half-century ago.

"For me, it's a very fulfilling calling," Bourdette said. "For example, in my own ministry I've had the occasion to, on a Saturday morning, have a funeral and then, in the afternoon, a wedding, and then on Sunday, a baptism." He added, with his characteristic wit: "So, I would say that I 'dispatched' in the funeral, matched them at the wedding, and for the baptism, hatched them. All events were very rewarding."

Bourdette said he "had the good fortune to grow up in a Christian family" at Sayre Christian Church in Sayre, Pa. "During the war years, we'd walk to church.

"My call to Christian ministry certainly was not a Saul/Paul conversion experience as found in Acts 9," he said. "My childhood days were spent in Athens, Pa., where my father worked for Ingersoll-Rand, and where I would, during the Second World War, ride my scooter to the lR [plant] at lunchtime, and my father would bring out an ice-cream Dixie cup. Every summer, I'd attend a youth camp called Christian Youth Fellowship, and in 1952, I made my commitment to Christian ministry."

Not that Bourdette was never challenged in his faith.

His college days were spent at Phillips University in Enid, Okla.

"During my last year in college, and first year in Phillips Seminary, I was a pastor at a very rural Oklahoma hamlet," he said. "It was here that I encountered my very first parishioner who had had a stroke and was bedridden, and asked me repeatedly -- 'Why?' "

Bourdette was later transferred to Colgate Rochester Divinity School in Rochester.

"Here, a professor of ethics played a significant role in the direction of my future ministry," he recalled. "I simply did not want to go into parish ministry at the conclusion of my seminary years. I was most fortunate there was an opportunity for me to be a 'fraternal worker,' going to Berlin [Germany]." There, he coordinated exchanges between young Germans and English vocational students.

In Berlin during the early 1960s, "there was still considerable evidence of the war," Bourdette said. "I happened to be in West Germany when the wall went up in August of 1961. I was with a group of young people, three or four from the East, and when we returned to West Berlin, I agreed to be a contact person for one of the teenagers whose mother lived in East Berlin. Occasionally, I managed to smuggle medicine over to her.

"That ended at Christmastime of 1961, when the Eastern-border police wanted to know what I was doing. It was decided that my going to the East would likely jeopardize the teenager's mother."

Bourdette's first church in Western New York was First Christian Church in Dunkirk.

"It was small, but it was willing for me to engage in social ministry, such as the Chautauqua County Migrant ministry program," he said. He was subsequently asked by then-Gov. Nelson Rockefeller to serve on Rockefeller's migrant committee. This ministry moved him in the direction of becoming involved in the "War on Poverty," and Bourdette also was involved in the formation of an anti-poverty program in Chautauqua County.

"I've been most fortunate in my ministry," said Bourdette, who shares the Niagara Falls First Baptist Church pastorate with his co-pastor, the Rev. Jonathan Lawrence, a 1989 Lewiston-Porter High School graduate and Canisius College associate theology professor.

At First Baptist Church of Niagara Falls, Bourdette's goals are "to provide pastoral care and to lead members of the congregation to engage in a 'caring ministry.' "

And caring, experts say, is a key to happiness.

Have an idea for Religion News? Write to: Louise Continelli, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240, or e-mail her at lcontinelli@buffnews.com

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