Trio of Bank of the West employees also pursue a higher calling
When you step into the lobby of the Bank of the West building at 16555 Boones Ferry Road in Lake Oswego, there is a 100 percent chance you'll receive a friendly greeting.
This is not unusual for a bank, as staffers are typically trained to give customers a warm welcome. What makes Bank of the West unique is this: There is a 60 percent chance the person greeting you is not just a banker, but an aspiring minister as well. Of its five staffers, three are active in the ministry.
Take Andre' Alberti. A 2009 graduate of Multnomah Bible College, Alberti majored in ministry and leadership and Bible. He currently attends Mt. Olivet Baptist Church in North Portland and says he initially took the job at Bank of the West in 2006 because he needed the money to pay his bills. Now it's typical for him to spend his days at the bank and his off-hours helping his church in whatever way he can, often attending conferences and programs.
Duoshun Pledgure is a pastor-in-training at Emmaus Church in Northeast Portland. He came to the bank when he was engaged and needed a better job to support his marriage. He says he looked around, prayed and saw an opportunity. He's been with Bank of the West since November of 2010.
Pledgure also is involved with music ministry, reaching out to youths with gospel hip-hop. His group 1st Infantry attends community centers and camps to talk about music and ministry.
Ron Seawood joined the Youth Ministry of Mt. Olivet Baptist Church in Northeast Portland in 2007. He served as a group leader to middle school boys transitioning into high school. Seawood was a marketing specialist at Farmers Insurance when he decided to enroll at Western Seminary. He went there several terms, but was sidelined when money got tight. His wife had just graduated with her MBA and he needed to shift his priorities to handle the responsibilities of a family.
His goal in attending school was to learn how to teach the Bible. He now volunteers at his church with a group that goes through the Bible verse by verse, line by line.
Seawood and Alberti have known each other since middle school, but didn't become friends until after college. When the two men ended up attending the same Bible study together, they reconnected and Alberti eventually helped Seawood secure a position at the bank several months ago.
Though Albert, Pledgure and Seawood are now on a similar path, their backgrounds vary immensely. Alberti has seen himself on this path for a long time, whereas the other two came to this more recently.
'I've had the idea and concept of becoming a pastor for a long time,' said Alberti. 'My question was always: How do I do that? That's why I went to school. I'll go wherever God puts me.'
Alberti sees working at the bank as an extension of this philosophy: He is here at the bank because it is where God placed him.
For Pledgure, 'The concept of church leadership didn't hit me until a couple of years ago, though I've been following Jesus since I was a teenager. Early on, I rejected it because I thought it's a big responsibility and I didn't want to get into it and not be able to handle it. For a long time, I just did youth ministry, music ministry, things like that.'
When he joined Emmaus, the pastor there talked to Pledgure about using his gifts to become a pastor. He's been taking part in the pastor training program for the past two years, working toward becoming more of a church leader.
'I didn't come to Christ or believe in Jesus until I was 22, after I graduated from college. I began to read the Bible more and get a better understanding of who Jesus is. I wanted to know more and more about that. With that came a greater hunger and desire to dig more and more into the Scriptures. Also, I was finding that people don't believe because they don't know what the Bible says. That's why I feel that God gave me the desire to understand what He said. That's what's placed me on this path that I'm currently on.'
Seawood doesn't know if ministry will ever be a full-time occupation for him. He said his goal is always to be able to understand God in the proper context and be able to share his knowledge with others.
'That's one thing we all agree on,' says Pledgure. 'Ministry may not be a full-time thing for us as far as pay goes, but I don't think any of us mind if we spend the rest of our lives doing ministry and still having full-time jobs. On top of doing ministry overtly, we all believe that wherever God places you, whatever context you're in, you're a missionary. Here at the bank, our job is to show God in our work ethic and how we present ourselves and how we share His love. Being here at the bank is no different from doing ministry somewhere. We believe that what we're doing is a representation of Christ.'
Though they conduct themselves in a way that is consistent with their faith, the men are not out to shove their religion in anyone's face. The Bank of the West family is a happy one, with Alberti referring to David Saltzman, vice president of the Lake Grove branch, as the father who cares for everybody. Saltzman's Judaism does not conflict with their Christianity; the men respectfully agree to disagree on a few points but are always interested to hear about each other's world views. Everyone gets along with fifth staffer Andrew Williams; the atmosphere inside the bank can best be described as jovial and fun.
'Everyone asks questions, and I think that's what makes this such an open atmosphere,' said Alberti. 'I can say, 'Andrew, how do you approach this?' and it's never taken as an attack. We respect each other. Nobody's asking questions to be smart or to try and challenge each other. It's genuine.'
The staffers do not try to reach out to their customers through overt religious discussion; rather, they try to show their faiths through example.
'I hope when people see us, they see what a relationship with God looks like,' said Seawood. 'We're all flawed, but with his help, He fills in the gaps and makes us whole. That's the message we're sharing.'
The Lake Grove branch is number one in its division. Staffers always keep their interactions with customers professional, but they're happy to give advice or offer encouragement when asked.
'We tell them, 'We'll pray for you,'' said Pledgure, 'And we mean it.'
Kristen Forbes is a freelance writer. To view her blog, visit www.krissymick.blog