Pastoral succession continues over three decades of services
supporting people with Down syndrome
Edmeston, NY, January 23, 2024 ... The ringing of the chapel bell at Pathfinder Village several weekends ago marked the transition of spiritual leadership at the nationally recognized community for people with Down syndrome and other intellectual disabilities. The Rev. Douglas Burleigh, Village Chaplain since 2009, introduced the congregation to their new pastor, the Rev. Ben Blackwell of West Edmeston.
“This is a wonderful place, with wonderful people who live and work here. It has been a joy to work with them, to walk with them, and to be a part of their lives for the past 14 years,” said Pastor Burleigh in recalling his service to the Village. “I leave with the joy of knowing the residents and staff who are dear to my heart.”
Burleigh, MDiv, who lives in Fly Creek, is well loved among the community members, and recently was honored as one of Pathfinder’s Community Heroes for his exemplary service in meeting residents’ spiritual needs. Burleigh is also retiring from his chaplaincy role at The Community Hospice of Albany, part of St. Peter’s Health Partners, a hospice agency that serves over 4,300 patients and their families annually in eight upstate counties.
“Spirituality has a significant role in the lives of people with intellectual disabilities. Grief and loss, as well as the opportunity to celebrate joys and achievements, and to know fellowship and love, these are very much a part of each of their lives,” added Rev. Burleigh. “It has been my privilege to minister to them around these and other needs.”
“I’m very excited and grateful for the opportunity to serve at Pathfinder Village,” said Rev. Blackwell, the grandson of a minister who served congregations for over 50 years. “Being new to this ministry, my hope is to build relationships with the residents. It will be in those relationships where I will learn how I may be of service in guiding them in their spiritual journey and well-being.”
“The thirty-plus years of providing spiritual guidance at Pathfinder is foundational,” Blackwell added. “I hope to build on that existing foundation. This takes place in building those relationships with individuals, learning their spiritual needs, and serving and teaching them. Some adjustments will help increase engagement: I’ve worked closely with the Program and Enrichment staff. We’re excited about these steps that will move us forward in building on the spiritual foundation here at Pathfinder.”
Blackwell attended Practical Bible College, Johnson City, and worked extensively in youth ministry in the Owego area before 2003. After moving to Otsego County, he served as the assistant director of youth ministry at the Burlington Flats Baptist Church, working with over 40 teens each week. Building on 16 years as a youth minister, he transitioned to substituting at Sunday services at Burlington Flats and for other local congregations. He is now starting his fifth year as the senior pastor of the West Edmeston First Baptist Church and serves as the secretary for the area council of churches.
Blackwell is employed as a Desktop Support Technician II at NYCM, and volunteers in the community with the Tri-Town Youth Commission. He and his wife, Elizabeth, and three children reside in West Edmeston.
Although Pathfinder Village is not a faith-based organization and does not promote doctrine, early in its history its leaders recognized the role that spirituality can play in centering and benefiting people with intellectual disabilities. Non-denominational services at the Village have been offered regularly since the All-Faiths Community Chapel was dismantled piece-by-piece and restored at Pathfinder’s campus in 1986. Weekly services provide opportunities for fellowship, to express one’s faith, and the celebration of traditions. Individualized spiritual counseling services have been offered by Village Chaplains as well. During the height of the pandemic, video services were recorded and shared on YouTube, and individuals received counseling through online sessions.
The chapel building originally stood one mile from its present location in West Burlington and was a gift from the Wyoming Conference of the United Methodist Church. Pathfinder’s first Village Chaplain was the Rev. Mark Terwilliger, who served as the pastor at the First United Methodist Church of Edmeston at that time. Other full-time chaplains included Lyle Linder, Paul Towers, Beverly Butler, Lorraine Zimmerman, Connie Schroeder, and Sherry Acre.
Pathfinder Village is an internationally respected open-access community and services provider in upstate New York; it was founded in 1980 to provide people with Down syndrome and other disabilities an independent and fulfilling lifestyle. As it works to provide quality supports for individuals with intellectual disabilities, the Village also offers highly successful educational, day services, vocational/pre-vocational, and outreach programs. To learn more, visit https://pathfindervillage.org, or visit our social media on Facebook and Instagram.