Rev. Harlan Gillespie, Superintendent for the North Central District, who also serves as Dean of the Appointive Cabinet, will be taking on a very important new role starting July 1: Assistant to the Bishop for Administration. For the new position, he and his wife will be leaving their home in the North Central District, where they’ve enjoyed living for the last four years, and relocating to Des Moines.
Click to listen to the interview with Rev. Harlan Gillespie.
“When I think about it, my palms get sweaty,” he confesses. “I didn’t know it was coming until the appointment was shared with me. So I feel some of that in every appointment – the sense of excitement, the sense of being sad about leaving some place where we’ve already been.”
Rev. Gillespie understands the responsibilities ahead, having observed his predecessors – Bob Burkhart, David Wendel, and Bill Poland – in the role. “But there’s a whole lot about it that I don’t really know, and there will be, like with all new appointments, a steep learning curve,” he says. Although he feels like he’s up to taking on that learning curve, Rev. Gillespie admits it’s “a bit anxiety-producing, but it’s also exciting to do that. And I’m sure there will be some days that, we all wonder once in awhile, ‘What am I getting into here?’”
When Bishop Laurie Haller first told him that he had been chosen, it reminded Rev. Gillespie of how he felt when receiving past appointments. “Deep down inside, there’s kind of a burning sensation in the pit of my stomach. ‘Lord, what am I supposed to say to this?’ I agreed. I firmly believe in the covenant that I and others made in our ordination in that I would go where I was sent, so I don’t question that, per se. Except to wonder, ‘Why, Lord, me? What do you see in me that’s important for that?’”
But that feeling that he experiences in the pit of his stomach is not something the reverend regards as simple jitters. “That’s where I would locate my soul, deep inside of me. As opposed to my heart – that tends to be more emotional. But deep inside of my soul, I was thinking and feeling a sense of being overwhelmed, but at the same time excited about the possibilities and what this brings.”
Whether as a local pastor or District Superintendent, and soon in his new job, Rev. Gillespie brings a conviction that he needs to serve everyone. “It’s not that I deny my basic beliefs, but I have to lay a fair amount of that off to the side to work with a whole lot of people who have different perspectives sometimes – in our conference and in the United Methodist Church in general, especially in times like this – as I believe that I was appointed to be a pastor of the entire local congregation, not just segments of it.”
As a musician and a choral director also, Rev. Gillespie understands the value of taking a variety of voices and skills, and being able to blend them into one beautiful sound, a notion that applies both to music and ministry. But he points out that it’s not just about harmonizing. “Great music is not just simply harmony that ‘sounds good’ all the time. It includes dissonances, it includes the sense of tension and release. It’s in the tension and release of that tension, in the midst of those dissonances with harmonic implications, that the whole score comes to life. It becomes actually life and living. That’s when the growth really takes place.”
Managing those dissonances may not always be easy, but it’s necessary and rewarding work. “I think that’s the challenge for our church as a whole right now, and the challenge for us as individuals too,” Rev. Gillespie says. He seems to feel confident that he and his colleagues are prepared to take on challenges like these, with an important goal in mind. “What we all want to do is to serve the Lord to the very best of our ability, to make disciples and share the healing ministries of Jesus to the communities.”