OXFORD - Bonnie Bardot was in her car, stopped at a red light on East Main Street in Torrington on October 11, 1979, when she suddenly realized that she was destined to become a minister.
"I knew then and there this was what I was supposed to do," said the new interim minister at the United Church of Christ Congregational. "It was a call from God."
Up to that point, Bonnie, which she prefers to be called over more formal addresses, had worked at various jobs, including teaching special education children in both public and private schools, working for a florist and writing news for a Litchfield paper.
The calling did not stem from deeply spiritual roots.
Raised as a Catholic, she said her family went to church on Sundays but weren't particularly religious.
At the age of 22, after graduating from UConn, she began attending services at a Congregational church in Litchfield, more interested in singing in its choir than in nurturing her spiritual self.
The call to the ministry came out of the blue.
Acting on the impulse, Bonnie visited a minister she knew who encouraged her to pursue her vision.
Not entirely convinced that she was up to the task, she tried to draft a list of reasons why she couldn't do it."Because you don't say no to God without a good reason," she explained.
Taking pad and pencil in hand, she wrote the word, "commitment" on the pad. She couldn't think of another reason.
Realizing commitment was something her life was lacking, she determined to address the shortcoming.
Three years later, after receiving a theological education at Yale Divinity School, she was ordained. Two years ago, she earned a doctorate in ministry from Hartford Seminary.
For five years, she was an associate minister in a Trumbull church, but for the last 22 years, she has served as an interim minister in 17 different churches in Connecticut.
Bonnie said she feels she is cut out to be an interim minister - one who serves a parish for 18-24 months while it searches for a permanent leader.
"It suits my personality," she said. "I like going into a church where they are experiencing transition."
The position requires the ability to help parishioners decide where they want to go, a skill she believes she has.
Also, she enjoys preaching, she said.
When she learned that the Oxford United Church of Christ was seeking a minister following the departure of the Rev. Lucille Fritz last August, she decided to apply.
She was hired and began working full time on October 1.
Bonnie didn't show up for the job alone, however. She brought with her Norton d'Bear, a stuffed bear given to her by a friend for Christmas in 1981.
Norton, who was dressed in a blue and white striped tee shirt and gray trousers when Voices visited last week, assists Bonnie during the first 15 minutes of Sunday services, a time when children are invited to participate in the program.
Typically, Norton interacts with Bonnie, nodding or shaking his head like a puppet when she asks him questions about feelings and experiences that children can relate to.
Afterwards, the children are invited to take Norton to church school with them.
Rev. Bardot said the reception she and Norton have received from the church's 270 members has been warm and friendly.
On learning that her favorite color was purple, a number of parishioners showed up at her first Sunday service wearing purple clothing.
In fact, one of them even knitted a purple scarf for Norton to wear.
Asked what she would like to achieve during her temporary employment here, Bonnie said she wanted to focus her energy on making the church even better than it already is.
"People here love the church deeply and have a lot of energy. I would like them to focus that energy to accomplish the ministries that are already going on here. They're doing great things, but they can accomplish even more," she said.