Surrounded by middle schoolers in the basement of First Presbyterian Church on Monday evening, Meg Vail had an opportunity to introduce herself to the youth as the new associate pastor of the church.
Vail, originally from Philadelphia, listened intently as the teens told her of their favorite youth group activities — including what flavor of cake is the best — during the first of many weekly meetings between her and the youth.
Having spent the last 10 years living in Austin, Texas, Vail made her way to Cache Valley at the beginning of March after a lengthy call process.
“When we go through the search process for pastors in our church, most will do a national search. You are a free agent and apply and it is very democratic in how a person is selected,” Vail said.
While on a travel seminar in Turkey, Vail met Pastor Derek Forbes, developing a high regard for Forbes and the initiatives the church was engaged in, she said.
When she saw a job posting for an associate pastor in Logan appear in a church-wide database, she became interested in applying and began the months-long process.
“Reading the posting, which is essentially the resume of the church, their vision and interest in environmental justice and raising up the younger church along with making this a refuge for all to be welcome were things that resonated with me,” Vail said.
After an initial Skype interview, she was invited for an in-person visit and as part of the process delivered a sermon at Preston Presbyterian Community Church. The sermon was kept a secret and only the committee knew she would be speaking that Sunday, she said.
Vail said the process of teaching in Preston was to help the committee evaluate her as a pastor before inviting her to meet the church body.
“The last step was a candidacy weekend where they tell the church: ‘This is who we think God is calling to be here.’ Where I preach and the church votes,” Vail said. “It is a nerve-wracking process because it is an entire community of people. They are are evaluating you on one sermon.”
Vail said the community at the church trusts the search committee to present a candidate suited for the congregation.
“The sermon was more or less about Jesus exorcising a demon in the synagogue and my first line was: Clearly if you are on a job interview weekend, you want to teach a sermon about this,” Vail said.
She used the sermon to explain that from the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry he was focused on care and healing was a priority. She used the sermon to show how those core tenants were things the church should hold as their first priority.
The path to ministry wasn’t something Vail initially pursued. When she moved from Philadelphia to Austin it was in hopes of pursuing an advanced degree in Latin American studies. During her time there, she experienced a call to ministry and enrolled in the seminary.
While there were many things that drew Vail into ministry, she said two things really stick out as the driving force behind her pursuits to become a pastor.
“A lot of people in my world told me I had a gift for being a compassionate listener,” Vail said. “Family and friends would come to me when they were navigating difficult decisions and some of those were ‘Where is God in this?’ conversations.”
The second push into ministry was discovering her love for preaching and offering perspective on scripture through her time serving in the college ministry at the University of Texas.
“I was working in a very progressive Catholic campus ministry with a progressive group of priests who would invite me to do educational things at the center when they would be gone,” Vail said.
With encouragement from students and others, she began to realize pursuing a pastoral role in Catholicism would not be possible and made a decision to join the Presbyterian Church.
Through her upbringing in Catholicism, Vail said she had a good experiences with the church and is thankful for her time serving in the college ministry.
“Not everyone who leaves a tradition has a good experience with the tradition they are leaving,” Vail said. “The experiences I had with that tradition I feel were very positive. It wasn’t a tradition I could serve in the way that God was calling me to.”
As associate pastor, Vail will be responsible for Christian education and the youth and young adults of the church. She hopes to start some non-traditional education activities that will involve the community and not just sitting down with a Bible.
“Knowing that there is some college age folks who are interested in what the church is doing, but might not think church is relevant to them, will lead me to be on campus and go to them,” Vail said.
One of the biggest challenges of the move from Austin to Logan was having to leave her wife, Jeannine Caracciolo, of nearly three years behind until she can make the move in the next few months.
Caracciolo works as a hospice chaplain, and the couple has had to balance work schedules and a timezone difference after the move. Vail said they currently chat via Facetime and have coffee each day to stay connected.
During the interview process, Caracciolo ventured to Logan with Vail and fell in love with the area, despite the snow in January when they visited.
“The snow was her obstacle. She has previously lived in other cold places and was ready to hang her hat on the cold, but she loved this church and the people here,” Vail said. “She does love the outdoors and this is a great place to be for that.”
Vail wants to become engaged not only with her new church family, but the Cache Valley community as a whole. She said there is no litmus test to come into her office and ask questions about faith or non faith topics.
Moving forward, she hopes to continue the trend of First Presbyterian of engaging the community and being an institution that can foster dialogue that moves the community as whole toward unity.
“I have heard from different people and families, that in some ways, different religious communities can be segregated. Maybe this is idealistic, but one goal I have is to bring people together on projects on community concern that don’t require us to water down out differences. That doesn’t serve anyone well, and there are things we can turn our attention to, and despite our differences, we can come together,” she said.