2017-08-11 / Faith

Pastor leaves legacy of laughter and love

By Dawn Megli-Thuna


MOVING ON — After more than a decade at the helm of the United Methodist Church of Westlake Village, and more than 48 years in ministry, the Rev. Gary Alan Dickey has retired. Above, he’s with his wife, Tami, and their Shih Tzus, Latte, left, and Bentley. Well-known for playing the bagpipes, Dickey, 70, vacated his position because he reached the United Methodist Church’s mandatory retirement age for pastors. 
Photos by DIANNE AVERY/Acorn Newspapers MOVING ON — After more than a decade at the helm of the United Methodist Church of Westlake Village, and more than 48 years in ministry, the Rev. Gary Alan Dickey has retired. Above, he’s with his wife, Tami, and their Shih Tzus, Latte, left, and Bentley. Well-known for playing the bagpipes, Dickey, 70, vacated his position because he reached the United Methodist Church’s mandatory retirement age for pastors. Photos by DIANNE AVERY/Acorn Newspapers For the past 48 years, the Rev. Gary Alan Dickey has written a sermon in preparation for every Sunday. All, that is, but one.

For his final sermon at the United Methodist Church of Westlake Village on June 25, Dickey didn’t write a single word.

“That’s the first time in 48 years I never prepared a sermon,” he said. “I just let the spirit move me and talked about love. Every church I’ve been at has been full of love, God’s love and people’s love.”


OUT FOR A STROLL—The Dickeys take one of their frequent late-afternoon walks near their home in Westlake Village. OUT FOR A STROLL—The Dickeys take one of their frequent late-afternoon walks near their home in Westlake Village. As he stepped down from the pulpit, he picked up his signature bagpipes and played “ Amazing Grace,” walking down the aisle of the church one last time.

“I was crying so hard, I could hardly play the pipes,” he said.

Dickey is retiring not because he wants to, but because he has to. The 70-year-old has reached the age of mandatory retirement in the United Methodist Church.

He’s led four churches in the Los Angeles area over the past half-century, spending the last 14 years at UMCWV.

A seventh-generation Methodist, Dickey said he remembers the day he made his own decision to give his heart over to God.

“I was converted and called into the ministry by Billy Graham during one of his North Carolina crusades. It was on television. He looked out through the TV screen and asked if I would come to Christ,” he said. “That day, God called me into ministry.”

That date—May 24, 1968— was 230 years to the day of the conversion of Methodism’s founder John Wesley. Sunny Benjamin has been a member of the Westlake Village church for 30 years. She said she’ll never forget Dickey’s first Sunday with the congregation. As parishioners shook his hand after the service, he greeted each one by name.

“He had taken the time to learn the directory. Everyone was very impressed. He made you feel like he really cared about you,” Benjamin said. She said the pastor, who was quick to visit the sick and hospitalized, had a knack for timing. “He was always there when you needed him, even if you didn’t know you needed him.” Carol Ames, communications coordinator for the church, has known Dickey since he first came to the Conejo Valley. “I think he’s fantastic,” she said. “He loves to give hugs.” She said the retired pastor has a notorious sweet tooth. Even better known, however, is his aversion to green vegetables— broccoli in particular.

Next phase

For the next year, Dickey will take a required break from the congregation in order to give the new pastor time to make a healthy transition. Meanwhile, parishioners who would like to catch up with Dickey know they can always find him hanging out at Starbucks or walking his two Shih Tzus near his home in Westlake Village. Dickey will continue to practice his ministry in retirement. For the past five years, he’s served as a deputy civil air patrol chaplain for the California wing of the U.S. Air Force Auxiliary and plans to continue in that position.

“Unfortunately, I’ve conducted services for members killed in action and veterans. I’ve also done services for young men that I’ve baptized,” he said. “But it allows me to still be active in that way so I don’t get rusty.” Dickey is also a member of the Conejo Valley Genealogical Society and belongs to several patriot lineage societies, including the Sons of the American Revolution and the Sons of the Civil War. Supervisor Linda Parks said the Board of Supervisors will honor Dickey with a resolution this fall. “He gives such lovely eulogies that I once told him if he outlives me I’d like him to do mine,” she said. He and Tami, his wife of 42 years, love to travel. They’ve led tours throughout Europe.

Their favorite place, however, is Hawaii, where the couple spent a week following Dickey’s retirement. They are scheduled to lead a tour of Greece in October. More than 400 people attended the pastor’s retirement party at the Reagan Library last month. Ames said after so many years of service, Dickey will be missed by everyone in the congregation . . . well, almost everyone. “There are people who don’t like the bagpipes,” she said. “They might be happy.”

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