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Expats to Repats: Back to Buffalo to serve through the church

With a passion for politics, Bryan Wandel wanted to be in the center of the action. So in 2008, he said goodbye to his family and friends in Buffalo, and headed for Washington D.C. But over the years, his calling shifted, and a move towards pastoral work eventually brought him back to the Queen City.

Bryan began his political career as an intern in the Senate, then moved on to work for various congressmen. But after about a year, he realized working in politics wasn’t for him and transitioned into accounting for the federal government.

Over the years, Bryan and his wife, Kacy, enjoyed living and working in our nation’s capital, saying they appreciated the fast-paced, high-achieving city.

“Everywhere you walked has historical significance. And there’s something going on that’s important significantly,” Bryan said.

But as they began getting more involved with their church, Bryan took an interest in pastoral work. About five years ago, Bryan realized he wanted to serve the community through the church, back in his hometown of Buffalo.

“I really love the small-mid-size cities, I love the ability to have a lot going on, and cultural things happening,” Bryan said.

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Names: Bryan and Kacy Wandel

Age: 33 (Bryan), 33 (Kacy)

Current location: West Side of Buffalo, near Lafayette High School

Previous locations: Washington, D.C.

Love most about Buffalo: The smaller city, the sports teams, running into people you know all the time, the way the community comes together when tragedy happens, the preservation efforts

Miss most about Washington, D.C.: The history, the community spaces, extended family living there, always something going on

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Bryan was born in Kaisertown and grew up in the Town of Tonawanda, graduating from Kenmore East before heading to Roberts Wesleyan College in Rochester, where he met his wife, Kacy.

The Wandels eventually made their way back to Western New York in January 2017 to start the Church of the Atonement, an Anglican church. For now the church services are held inside the First Presbyterian Church at Symphony Circle.

Bryan Wandel leading his congregation at the Church of the Atonement at Symphony Circle. (Photo courtesy of Bryan Wandel)

With a grant and support from the Church of Western New York, they have built the church from the ground up as they now work to grow their congregation.

As for Bryan and Kacy, they’ve settled in the city’s West Side, having chosen it for its diversity and walkability. They are pleased to be back in a smaller city, with a larger house and backyard. And they feel Buffalo has a lot to offer.

“It’s not a place you get lost, but still a place where you get a number of opportunities,” Bryan said.

Bryan Wandel and Father Timothy Reimer from St. Luke's Anglican Church in East Aurora participate in a Nickel City Forum event at Thin Man Brewery. (Photo courtesy of Bryan Wandel)

In addition to the church, Bryan continues working as an accountant telecommuting with his old job. He also has started up Nickel City Forum, a monthly event where people can gather to have meaningful conversations about culture, faith and ideas.

“These events have produced remarkable discussions among people who don't normally talk,” Bryan said. “They also give people an opportunity to think more deeply about topics than simply forming gut-reaction opinions.”

Meanwhile Kacy is taking care of their four kids Evangelina (7), Valor (4), Kyrie (1) and Ezekiel (1 month), while working with the Buffalo French Club to get more language classes into the Buffalo Public Schools.

Evangelina Wandel with new brother, Ezekiel. (Photo courtesy of Bryan Wandel)

A navy brat, Kacy has lived all over the United States. She first visited Buffalo in 2006, and appreciates all the progress she has seen since then.

“It’s really exciting to see how much things have changed since we were first dating and engaged and married,” Kacy said. “People are starting to take ownership of the city.”

She says while she misses the community spaces of D.C., she loves the more independent shops here, the art revitalization and how people are trying to preserve older homes and accentuate aspects of the city rather than tear down.

“We’re kind of in time where people are proud to live in cities,” Kacy said.

She also loves that her children are growing up rooted in one place.

Bryan and Kacy Wandel, with their children, Evangelina, Valor, and Kyrie on the steps of their house on Buffalo's West Side. (Photo courtesy of Bryan Wandel)

While glad to be back in the Western New York area, Bryan appreciates the time he spent away, feeling it helped see things in a new way.

“You catch a culture,” Bryan said.“That culture of changing things and making things happen is something I caught on very strongly.”

He says that’s what really pushed him to come back and start the new church.

“I don’t think I would be nearly as driven to start new things and make new things if I hadn’t gone away,” Bryan said.

With Bryan’s drive and Buffalo’s openness to change, for the Wandels, it turns out the action always was in the Queen City.

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If you or anyone you know has a story to tell about moving back or to Buffalo, or about moving away, email alison.russo19@gmail.com.

Alison Russo grew up in the Southtowns and currently lives in a suburb of Kansas City with her husband, Joe, and their two children. She currently works as a freelance writer and public relations/marketing specialist.

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