Published in the January 20, 2016 edition


REVEREND DR. DENNIS C. BAILEY will retire as pastor of the Centre Congregational Church after delivering his final sermon on Sunday, Jan. 31. His ministry career spanned over 40 years at churches in Jamaica Plain, Billerica and Lynnfield. (Maureen Doherty Photo)


LYNNFIELD — Throughout more than 40 years of ministering to his flock, the Reverend Dr. Dennis C. Bailey has stayed true to the roots forged in his childhood growing up on an 80-acre farm in Maryland.

It was in his boyhood that he developed the hard work ethic that comes from farming and learned to value the importance of both family and community, especially in the wake of his father’s untimely death just three days after young Dennis turned 16.

“He had been sick with melanoma cancer for a couple of years,” Rev. Bailey recalled. In addition to enduring the loss of his father, his mother had to sell their beloved farm. He, along with his mother and younger brother, had to move.

But growing up just one mile south of the Mason-Dixon line on the Maryland-Pennsylvania border, his extended family and church community remained a constant in his life. “The church I grew up in, as I like to say, gave me my faith,” Rev. Bailey recalled.

These very hard-working people possessed a “deep and abiding faith,” he said, adding, “We were always there for each other. My whole family was a part of that, my grandparents and everybody. …That was my foundation for my faith, but also for the style of ministry that I practiced. I saw the ministers there visiting their parishioners and realized that was very important to people in a church – visiting them, getting to know them.”

As he prepares to retire as pastor of Lynnfield’s Centre Congregational Church at the end of this month – a position he has enjoyed for the past 9 1/2 years – Rev. Bailey has been reflecting upon his life’s work with a mix of both excitement for the journey ahead and the bittersweetness that comes from leaving behind the church family here that he has grown to love.

Rev. Bailey admits it is hard not to get emotional about leaving. Choking back tears, he said he will miss “the people of this congregation; their loving, caring, welcoming ways; the high quality of leadership among the lay leadership in this church. They have supported me, encouraged me, allowed me to be who I am. I haven’t had to be artificial in any way and neither are the people here.”

Began in urban ministry

After “coming to clarity” on his decision to pursue a career in the ministry while in college and with the full support of his extended family, Rev. Bailey graduated from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) with a degree in sociology prior to heading north to New England in 1971 to study at Andover-Newton Theological School in Newton. He was ordained September 15, 1974 at the same small church in Pennsylvania where he had worshipped as a child. “My maternal grandparents lived to see me ordained,” he said.

His background in sociology gave him firm foundation for the ministry and also exposed him to the issue of racial inequality, and inspired his senior thesis on racism in medical care and medical school. He also supported himself with jobs in the city as a delivery truck driver and taxi cab driver and found himself drawn to urban ministry.

“Throughout theological school I thought someday in my career I might be able to pastor a church in the city. And I got to do that right away. It was a tremendous experience,” he said. His first job was as pastor of Central Congregational Church in Jamaica Plain.

The year was 1974 – the first year of court-ordered busing in an attempt to desegregate the Boston Public Schools – and the church and parsonage were located just one block from Jamaica Plain High School. “I’d look out my window, where I was working out of the office in my house, and see all of that going on. And I saw the monitors, people who had volunteered, many of whom were clergy,” he said.

“I think it’s important for churches to find ways of intersecting with the community in meaningful ways. So I did that in Jamaica Plain, Billerica and Lynnfield.

During his 15 years ministering in Jamaica Plain, he became involved in a social service organization that provided programs through federal funds for the elderly and youth. “It allowed me to connect with a diverse group of people,” he said.

He left Jamaica Plain to become the pastor at the First Congregational Church in Billerica and it was during his tenure there that he became involved as a Fire Chaplain in 1999 and Police Chaplain in 2000. It was through this work that he forged a close friendship with a Roman Catholic priest, Father Eugene Tully, who was serving with St. Theresa’s Church in Billerica at that time.

“We became very close friends. The community appreciated that we worked together because when 9/11 happened I went right to the rectory and he put together a service for the community, a prayer service, for that evening.”

“And while he was doing that, I worked with the town of Billerica School Department and others to notify the community so that every child going home from school the day of 9/11 received noticed that we were having a service at St. Theresa’s Catholic Church for the community,” he said.

They teamed up again the following Sunday to offer another interfaith community service. “Father Tully did the liturgy and I did the communications,” he said, emphasizing, “People needed to gather.”

“People came to realize that Father Tully and Rev. Bailey worked well together. He taught me how to put together a liturgy for events such as that,” he said.

After serving the Billerica community for 16 1/2 years, Rev. Bailey was called upon to become pastor of Centre Congregational Church in Lynnfield in 2006. Within a year of his tenure here, he was appointed Fire Chaplain by retired Police-Fire Chief Paul Romano. Rev. Bailey is proud of his work as a member of the Massachusetts Corp of Fire Chaplains that was established in 1999.

“Through that organization, we have a state-wide network of Fire Chaplains and we work in cooperation with the State Fire Marshal and our local fire departments,” he said. “The role of Fire Chaplain is to be available to the Fire Department as needed, to the firefighters, EMTs, paramedics, the families and the victims in the community. I serve at the discretion of the department.”

Following his calling

“I continue to feel that I was called to be the pastor of this congregation. I feel that way about all three churches I served,” Rev. Bailey said. He is proud to say that Centre Congregational Church, which belongs to the United Church of Christ, is “an open and affirming congregation.”

“We welcome everybody no matter their sexual preference, whether you are heterosexual, homosexual, transsexual, whatever. We don’t make a big deal about it but it’s an official position. It communicates that we welcome people, no matter who they are, where they’re from. Like many churches everywhere these days, people come from many different religious backgrounds.”

“That’s an important theme in this church – that we respect where you come from, and who you are and what you believe. And that gets carried over to our relationships in the community. We respect other churches, what they believe. You’ll never hear me putting down another church or what they believe. That’s not our style and we want to communicate a positive relationship with others,” Rev. Bailey said.

“I enjoy visiting with people in my parish, as one of my colleagues said once, in times of high feeling,” he said. Be it a time of crisis or celebration, the role of the pastor and congregation remains constant – being there for one another.

One such high point for Rev. Bailey has been the opportunity to visit with older parishioners, especially those who are not longer able to attend services. He had the joy of visiting with Marjorie Coons Cole, who will celebrate her 104th birthday on Jan. 26, just last week. She is the oldest member of Centre Congregational Church, joining in 1945.

“She was the grand marshal for the tercentennial parade,” Rev. Bailey said. Formerly known as Marge Coon, she was an elementary school teacher at the former Center School, for 30 years. She presently lives in Brooksby Village.

Favorite memories

Rev. Bailey has many favorite memories from his time in Lynnfield. “We’ve done very creative things with the worship. We have a very talented Christian Education Director, Barbara Langill, and a very talented music director, Doug Hodgkins,” he said.

Offering a child-friendly worship service is also important. “One of the highlights for me has been working with the children in that setting. Doing things that they find meaningful, engaging them and loving them and interacting with them, has been one of the most exciting parts of my ministry,” he said.

“Once a month we have holy communion and we do that early in the service so the children can be there with their teachers and their parents,” he said, adding, “Consistent with the nature of this congregation, we invite everyone who’s present to receive communion if they wish. No matter how old or their level of understanding. It’s an invitation, it isn’t an arm-twisting. And we do that because we want to share that part of Jesus’ ministry where He interacted with anybody and everybody and welcomed them to speak to him, to come to him, to receive his love. That’s one of the gifts this church has to offer,” he believes.

10th anniversary of 9/11

Being involved in civic activities has also been important, especially maintaining a presence at events such as the town’s Veterans’ Day and Memorial Day celebrations.

“The most significant thing I was involved in was the 10th anniversary of 9/11,” Rev. Bailey said. He headed the committee that prepared for that commemoration a year in advance, helping to coordinate the activities with the Fire Department, Lynnfield Rotary Club, and community members from all walks of life.

“This is where my experience in Billerica and my work with Father Tully came in very handy because he had designed these services, so I took what I learned and brought it here,” he said.

“We did a lot of brainstorming. I had some ideas but other people had ideas, so we built consensus around those ideas. And the result was really a greater blessing that I had anticipated because once the community got behind it, people began to discover that ‘we can do this and work together.’”

One person suggested putting up small flags on the town common representing every person who perished that day. “It was an awesome idea because that became like holy ground where people could come and reflect,” he said. It remained in place for two weeks.

“On the 10th anniversary we read every name of every person who died. We had so many people wanting to participate. Some read 10 names, some read more. And the Fire Department rang the bell after every name was spoken. We did that in the afternoon and the evening was the big service. We had music and Ace Bailey’s wife Katherine spoke eloquently. We had a community choir. It was a powerful event,” he said.

For his efforts, Rev. Bailey was presented with Lynnfield Rotary Club’s Citizen of the Year award for 2011–2012. On every other 9/11 anniversary during his tenure, Rev. Bailey has led a small remembrance and prayer ceremony at 8:30 a.m. in front of the Fire Station.

Youth groups

Keeping the youth engaged in church life is a challenging task, but at Centre Congregational Church the youth ministry program reaches beyond the bounds of its church membership. “We’ve given an opportunity for other youth in the community to become part of the youth ministry,” Rev. Bailey said.

“A cornerstone of the youth ministry has been a lot of outreach. Be it Bread and Roses, Cradles to Crayons, Haven From Hunger, My Brother’s Table, and once or twice a year, a mission trip to somewhere for a week,” he said. Rev. Bailey admits that he is just the cheerleader when it comes to maintaining this program. The real brains behind the operation have been Barbara Langill and Jill Couillard. Couillard has since retired and Langill is semi-retired, but they made quite a team.

Youths and adult members of the community attend the trips together. In the past several years they’ve gone on mission trips to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, New Jersey after the record floods and Joplin, Missouri after the devastating tornadoes.

“We’ve done Habitat to Portland, Maine and Lawrence, Mass. The mission trip involves youths and adults together. That’s been one of the highlights of youth ministry here because it gets people working together for the sake of others and it gives a lot of meaning to their faith. There are people who are members of this church because of that program. It made their faith come to life,” Rev. Bailey said.


Rev. Bailey has not written his farewell sermon but he has written a message for his farewell newsletter, aptly named “Goodbye.”

“In our tradition we have ethical codes of conduct and when I leave the church I can no longer return or interact with my parishioners as pastor. So it’s important for all of us to understand that. My role as pastor to this congregation in this community comes to an end at the end of the day, January 31.

“The day I was ordained in our denomination, we promise to be respectful with those who came before us, as pastors, our predecessors, and our successors so that that new pastor can have the same privileges and honors that I had to connect with people and not be interfered with by me being involved,” he said.

“It tears my heart out to leave. Ideally, at the end of our relationship, it’s hard because we got along so well, we worked well together, we did ministry together, and that’s the way it’s suppose to be. That’s what I’m celebrating myself. We had a great relationship,” he said.

Rev. Bailey plans to relocate to Milford, N.H. after selling his house in Lynn later this year. He has a new calling, having met the love of his life, Rev. Linda Hey, who has just started to serve as the interim minister of the Congregational Church of Pembroke, N.H. this month.

“One of the reasons for my retirement is I’ve met Linda, and one of the things I’ve learned along the way is you have opportunities, don’t miss them. Life is short; find joy where you can find it,” Rev. Bailey said.

Rev. Estelle Margarones

The church has recently hired Rev. Bailey’s successor. Rev. Estelle Margarones will begin her tenure as interim pastor on Feb. 1.

“I feel that Rev. Estelle is going to be great. She is very outgoing and I want her to have the same privilege and honor and excitement that I have had. I want it to go well for the church and I want it to go well for her,” he said.

Reverend Dr. Dennis C. Bailey will preach at his final service on Sunday, January 31 at 10 a.m.

A luncheon reception will begin at 12 noon in Richard’s Hall at the church to give community members and past parishioners an opportunity to say goodbye. Those planning to attend are asked to RSVP by called 781-334-3050 to enable church leadership to plan accordingly.