Special to the Transcript
WILLIAMSTOWN -- After 12 and a half years as the first female pastor at the First Congregational Church (FCC), the Rev. Carrie Bail recently decided to move on, leaving the church now aiming to have a new pastor fully in place by Christmas.
"I care deeply for the church and all its members," Bail said. "I have some wonderful memories and some wonderful accomplishments. I want the church to succeed."
Bail, who resigned last month, was one of the longest-serving pastors at the church in its 250-year history. Only four pastors remained longer than her, according to Moira Jones, moderator of the Pastoral Transition Committee.
Bail started her ministry in Hawaii and spent 26 years in pastoral ministry as a solo pastor in three different churches, including the FCC in Williamstown, which she joined in the summer of 2000. Bail said there were a lot of good things during those first years and that she strove to emphasize the willingness to be open and communicative.
While at FCC, Bail helped support a Christian school of refugees for 10 years, supported the National Alliance for Mental Illness and was co-chair of the planning committee for The Haystack Bicentennial in 2006.
She also helped residents of The Spruces Mobile Home Park who were displaced by flooding from Tropical Irene in August, 2011. This led to the formation of Higher Ground, a local nonprofit that installed Bail as its president for its first year. Bail said she also resigned from Higher Ground because of a lack of availability on her part.
Bail said she resigned as pastor because she found herself at a poor point of communication with a small group of the leadership that made it difficult for her to fulfill her call. Bail presided over her last service on Jan. 20, and said that afterward, the church had a wonderful celebration for her.
"We appreciated Pastor Bail very much," said Margaret Oxtoby, a member of the church who was part of the party planning committee. "She was a visionary and creative leader who shepherded us through an important time."
In the meantime, the church has begun its search for a new pastor. According to Jones and Anne Skinner, the pro tem chair of the Pastoral Transition Committee, information has been sent to the United Church of Christ (UCC) and they are waiting to hear back.
"It would be very rare for a search to be completed in less than two or three months," Skinner said.
The current search is for an interim pastor, who would serve as a buffer between the former pastor and the incoming pastor, said Jones. They are also considering the idea of a designated pastor, someone who would have a contract for a year and could be a potential candidate for pastor.
"That's still in the air because we have no feedback yet," Jones said.
Skinner said they expect that the first round of candidates will come from Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, and possibly New York. They expressed hope that the incoming pastor would find the location of the church beneficial and lively.
To compensate, the church has a supply pastor who comes in on Sundays and the Rev. Rick Spalding, the chaplain of Williams College, for funerals and weddings. They would like to have someone by the summer and a set pastor by Christmas.
For now, Bail has been spending time with various parts of her family, visiting her husband in Burlington, Vt., attending the college track meets of her twin daughters, and traveling to New Jersey to see her eldest son and his family.
"I get to go down and be Grandma, which is one of the great delights of my life," Bail said.
Bail is not sure what's next, but she doesn't think she will continue in pastoral ministry. She is interested in pursuing various positions in the national church that aren't necessarily a ministry in the UCC, but which may include topics that are important to her, such as social justice, mental health, environmentalism, refugees, and disaster relief.
"I guess if there were anything I'd like to be remembered for in the church it is for insisting that people love one another," Bail said, "that people communicate with one another, that that's the most important thing that a church can be about: how to make Christ's love real."