“Hello! My name is Julie Agee Gillaspy, and I’m the 2021 Moderator of the Presbytery of Arkansas!” When I moved home to Arkansas 20 years ago, I wouldn’t have known what that phrase meant, much less believed that I would be saying it! Yet, here I am, and I am deeply grateful and humbled to be a small part of this faith community that I’ve come to love so very much.
I grew up in Little Rock and was active in the small United Methodist Church that I could see from my house. That building and those people felt like home and family – a place where I learned about God, felt comfortable, loved, and supported. It was so foundational in my life, that even though I was not active in a church during my college and young adult years, I knew I wanted my own children to have that same experience.
When we moved back to Arkansas, and settled in Conway, we visited several churches, including First Presbyterian. (My husband, Art Gillaspy, grew up in the Presbyterian Church, and spent his formative years in the Batesville and Malvern churches.) As I learned more about the Presbyterian Church (USA), I found the tenets of reformed theology really resonated with me. That, in addition to the warm welcome my family received at FPC Conway, ushered in my identity as a Presbyterian. Since then, the inclusiveness, connectionism, and commitment to community has kept me engaged and growing in my own faith and service.
I was ordained as a Ruling Elder in my church about 14 years ago. There, I also served on a Pastor Nominating Committee, a Christian Educator search committee, nominating committee, personnel committee, and did a little of just about everything else active church members do, including VBS, kids’ and adults’ Sunday school, youth dinners, and more. About 10 years ago, I was asked to serve on, then moderate, the Presbytery of Arkansas’ Committee on Nominations. It was during that time that I got to know the staff of the Presbytery and gained a better appreciation of the connectional nature of our denomination.
In 2019, when I was asked to consider being Vice-Moderator of our Presbytery, I couldn’t imagine what gifts I might have that would be of value to this important body: I have no formal theological training; I cannot draw deep philosophical meaning from disparate texts in the Bible; my Presbyterian polity knowledge would likely be described as “beginner”-level; and while I can speak in front of large groups, if you ask me to pray in front of people, I just might forget how to speak. Yet, somehow, someone felt I might have other gifts to bring.
Enter 2020. As we began planning for the first-ever online Presbytery Meeting, it became pretty clear one of the reasons I may have been called to this role at this time: online meeting experience. In my “day job,” I work as a Human Resources executive at Acxiom, which is a global technology company that has relied on virtual meeting technology for years. Could I help facilitate an online meeting for more than 100 people? You bet! I lead video-conference meetings all day, every day, with people around the world! THIS I can do!
It has been such a blessing to experience the deep and varied gifts of Presbytery leaders (staff, committee leaders and members, teaching elders, ruling elders, volunteers) come together to serve and meet the needs of the churches and members in our area. I have enjoyed getting to know many of you and look forward to seeing and meeting even more people as we begin to incorporate more in-person events and gatherings.
When I’m not focused on Presbytery things or HR stuff, I love traveling and spending time with my family: my husband, Art, and daughters, Emma (a Lyon College grad) and Claire (Ferncliff Jubilee team member last summer). I enjoy cooking, walking (running some), hiking, beginner yoga, and recently rediscovered my childhood love of cross-stitching. But my favorite “hobby” in 2020 was raising 5 kittens and socializing their sweet stray momma. I’m happy to report all 6 are thriving in loving homes now!