'Loving God and loving each other'; Conversation with Rev. Dr. Harlan Gillespie

'Loving God and loving each other'; Conversation with Rev. Dr. Harlan Gillespie

June 07, 2018

In the latest edition of the Conference Conversations Podcast, Rev. Dr. Art McClanahan sat down with Rev. Dr. Harlan Gillespie. Gillespie is the Dean of the Bishop's Appointive Cabinet and outgoing North Central District Superintendent. He will be beginning his work as Assistant to the Bishop in the fall.
To listen to the full conversation between Harlan and Art, click here.

Art: Rev. Dr. Harlan Gillespie is the dean of the Bishop's Appointive Cabinet and is concluding his tenure as the superintendent of the North Central District of the Iowa Annual Conference. Harlan in just a short period of time you'll be assuming a new role as the Assistant to the Bishop. Right now as we're talking that's a little way off, and more immediately we're coming up to the 2018 session of the Iowa Annual Conference. What are your thoughts as we are about to convene?

Harlan: Well it'll be an interesting Annual Conference I think. There's, of course, the specter of the general session in Feb. 2019. We know that the Judicial Council has ruled that petitions can be generated to that special session, and I'm sure that's probably at least in the minds of most people attending Annual Conference this year that it's coming up on the horizon. Along with that, there are the usual things that we do: clergy session, laity session, reports, legislation, but we're also embarking on the next steps of the Healthy Conference Initiative with some restructuring of our administrative teams. The three new directors that are coming on board, all three of them on July 1, and that will provide some other background as to what's happening at Annual Conference this year. That will be on the minds of some, too. I know that when there are some changes there's also wondering about what's going to take place as we work that out together. It's exciting but there can also be a few question marks just yet too.

Art: As you personally look at Annual Conference in a more general way, what are some of the more meaningful aspects of an Annual Conference session to you?

Harlan: Well, a little story first: When I came to Annual Conference I must have been 27- or 26-years-old something like that as a lay member for the Annual Conference from the Belmond United Methodist Church. I had just attended the Iowa State Education Association's annual convention as a delegate from the high school there in Belmond. I was impressed by how it moved efficiently and so quickly. So, when I got to Annual Conference at the old Veteran's Auditorium it was about a day or so into it that I got frustrated with the slowness of the pace and the special orders of the day. I got frustrated for not getting to some decisions as quickly as I thought we could have done, and it could have been much more efficiently done. I actually wrote a letter to the sessions committee about that while I was there. Weldon Whitenack, who was a district superintendent at the time, received the letter and he took the time to sit down with this young adult, first time at Annual Conference, and walk through the letter with me. He didn't argue with me but just talked about the tradition of Annual Conference.

I've always appreciated what he did at that time. Because at that point, I began to realize that while we do legislation that it's really traditional for us—all the way back to the first conferences that Wesley generated, that John Wesley just started in the 1700s—it's much more about meeting in a Methodist way even all the way down to the Methodist small group. Meeting for Bible study, prayer, or Christian conversation and then going into the world for service, so it's a lot of connecting with people we haven't seen for awhile and getting to know new people. I encourage people to get to know people that they've never met before and 
talk to people that they have met before, and even visit with people that they don't see eye-to-eye with on theology and the Bible. Conferencing really is more than just legislation. Yes, that's an important thing to do, but it's really about worshipping together and the rich worship services that we participate in. It's about honoring people who are retiring. It's remembering those persons who have died and gone before us. That's very meaningful for me. I find myself, as the years go by, standing in honor of the people who have passed away like others do too. But now I find myself standing almost all the way through that memorial service and standing all the way through the remembering of the churches that have closed each year. So it's much much more than legislation to me. It's the relationships and the building of the relationships and continuing them and celebrating and grieving and moving forward in the faith. That's what I look forward to the most about Annual Conference.

Art: So I have one more question for you, and again it's more of a personal inside kind of question. As a superintendent, you're busy. As the dean of the appointive cabinet, you're even busier. There are lots and lots of details and I'm sure your binder, whether it's a physical binder or electronic binder, is pretty chock-full. Given that, how do you prepare yourself for Annual Conference?

Harlan: Well, I'd love to be able to prepare my days for Annual Conference by getting a whole lot of extra sleep before it starts, but that usually has never happened in my estimation. I mean, everybody's extremely busy in ministry these days, lay people and clergy-persons both. I prepare for it with some prayer time when I'm out walking or running in the early morning, and then throughout the day at various times. I like to see what's coming up so I'm prepared for some things. Beyond that, I think it's preparing myself to meet and great people and talk with folks. I tend to be naturally more of an introvert than an extrovert, so it takes some energy for me to be involved in lots of conversations throughout the day. I need my downtime once and awhile to prepare for meeting and greeting and talking to lots of people. I try not to let all of those details interfere with those relationships—with loving God and loving each other. When I start to let those details dominate my life then I don't think I'm very faithful to what God has called us to be about.

Art: Harlan, thank you.

Harlan: You're welcome. Thank you.