NORTH ADAMS -- Following the departure of Rev. Pat Kriss in November, the First Congregational Church now has a new pastor in the form of Ann Clark-Killam, who has been serving as pastor since Kriss' departure.
Clark-Killam, a North Adams native, is no stranger to the First Congregational Church, having attended in childhood.
"I am a local girl, kind of coming back to the church I grew up in," said Clark-Killam. "My family has been here since the 1800s at least. My father, my grandfather, maybe even my great grandfather, they've been members here forever. They were all Clarks, from Clarksburg. My grandfather was Harry Grant Clark, and then my father, Kenneth Clark, used to teach forever at the high school. Almost every native North Adams person over the age of 60 who went to Drury had my father as a teacher. I've got a long history here in the community of North Adams."
Clark-Killam left the city after high school to attend Boston University.
Since then, she has been working as a physical therapist, first in Albuquerque, N.M., and then in Washington state where she owned a large clinic. But in 1998, she returned to North Adams when her mother was in her final year of life and needed assistance.
"It feels just like home to be here," said Clark-Killam. "I grew up in this church. When I was a kid, we used to play hide and seek here in the dark; it was wonderful. I was baptized here, I was confirmed here, and now I'm back here being the pastor of this church.
"I was an adult member here for a number of years working on various committees, then I moved away and was gone a long time. Then I came back to the area, I got my divinity degree from Seattle University, and was ordained at this church in 2007 as a minister. I was pastor of the church in Richmond prior to coming here."
Clark-Killam left the Richmond church three years ago after the death of her husband, Dwight Killam, a church musician and a professor at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. But when Rev. Pat Kriss moved to the First Congregational Church in Danbury, Conn, the North Adams church was in need of a new pastor.
"We know Pastor Ann as a former member of the church, and as a friend of the church, and as a relative," said council head Margaret Whitney, who led the hiring process. "She was brought up in the First Congregational Church, her family went here ... we have a long-standing relationship with her. Also, we were familiar with her background as a pastor, and her spirituality with regard to worship. That was all very attractive to us."
"I took three years off from ministry, and actually got my certification as a yoga teacher, so I'm now practicing yoga in Williamstown, and also doing orthopedic physical therapy privately," said Clark-Killam. "But when they contacted me, I was ready. It took me a while to work through Dwight's death and the grief associated with it, but I said, I think I'm ready to go back into a parish. It's been wonderful and I've really enjoyed it. People at this church are warm and welcoming, and people in the food project have been warm and welcoming to me as well. I have lunch here a few days a week, so I meet the people who come in for lunch. It's just been a good situation, I'm very happy to be here."
Clark-Killam feels that one of her important goals in her new post is to support North Adams.
"I'm very committed to the town and to the common good of the town, that we're able to improve things, make it a little easier for people to be able to live here," she said. "North Adams has one of the highest poverty rates in the state of Massachusetts. We are one of the designated ‘poverty pockets' in the commonwealth. We have a lot of people here who do not have enough food, have marginal housing, that are really having a hard time in this economy. What I want to do here is serve the community with things like the meal program that provides services for the food project. That's housed in our building and operates five days a week."
After less than two months as the new pastor, Whitney is optimistic.
"I'm hoping that she will be able to bring us together ... and encourage us to participate more in both church life and community life, and bring a wonderful spiritual presence to us, which she has already been able to do in the short time she's been there."
Clark-Killam is a strong believer in healing ministry.
"I preach a social gospel as well as a progressive gospel that states that God loves all of creation, and we as God's children need to learn to love one another and do acts of kindness in the community," she said. "I'm half-time here in the church, and half time in the healing ministry through yoga and physical therapy. I have kind of a complex life. But it's all under the umbrella of doing healing ministry. Whether it's hands-on ministry in the medical field, or being the pastor of a church walking people through life's ups and downs, to me it's the same kind of ministry."
For those seeking that type of ministry, Pastor Clark-Killam added: "During the winter months, we are now meeting in the Fellowship Hall for worship. Anyone who wants to should feel free to come and experience the warmth of the church and the people."