Rev. Gary Dickey Retires After Decades of Service
When Gary Alan Dickey began as senior pastor at the United Methodist Church of Westlake Village 14 years ago, he memorized the church pictorial directory so he could call everyone by their names the first Sunday he was there.
“That was about 500 people,” recalls Dickey, 71, of Westlake Village. “The first Sunday I preached I told the congregation that they would never come to church unless they left with a feeling of God’s love and forgiveness.”
His initial experience was only the beginning of his most memorable moments at the church, where he officially retired on June 30, 2017.
“On my last Sunday many told me, ‘thank you for keeping your word,’” Dickey remembers. “That meant a lot to me.”
A Lasting Legacy
During his tenure at the church, Dickey spearheaded several improvements to the property, including a new parking lot, new roofing and room renovations.
“We also established the Memory Garden where members of the church can find a final resting place for the remains with a marble wall for inscriptions of their names,” Dickey says.
During his years of service, Dickey earned a reputation for using humor in his preaching so folks felt comfortable in church, where members often saw him in a kilt with bagpipes for many services.
“Most people say after attending that ours is one of the friendliest churches they have attended,” he says. “At my last service at the church, following my final benediction, I piped out of church playing ‘Amazing Grace’. There were a lot of tears of love shed that morning.”
Over the years, Dickey has contributed greatly to the community as well as the church, says UMC’s Director of Music Gloria Hilliard, who has worked alongside Dickey during his entire tenure.
For instance, Dickey participates in the Memorial Day Service and Easter Sunrise Service at Pierce Brothers Valley Oaks each year. He also serves as Chaplain and Major of the Civil Air Patrol, Squadron 61 Camarillo and Deputy Chaplain, California Wing of the USAF Auxiliary.
“He is available to those in and outside the church for weddings, memorial services and baptisms,” Hilliard says. “He has also been an active member of Rotary and has made many friends at the local Starbucks.”
Considered a “people person,” Dickey is known for greeting everyone with a hug.
“People like him because he genuinely cares about them and will do whatever he can to help,” Hilliard says. “His sermons have provided life lessons, and he includes humor in his sermons because he believes we should not take ourselves too seriously.”
Dickey has been “a uniting force” by working to ground people in the love of Jesus Christ, says Jon Gentry, Director of Youth Ministries and Christian Education who has worked with Dickey since 2015.
“Gary has sought to inspire a sense of interdependence and respect, and in the congregation he has worked hard on making the church a safe and welcoming place for a people of many values and ideologies,” Gentry says.
Dickey is proud of his Scottish heritage—evident by the kilt and bagpipes he frequently dons—and takes great pride in being a Methodist, Gentry notes.
“People see how comfortable Gary is in his own skin and what a good thing it is to be rooted in ventures that build up the community,” Gentry says. “It helps those people to discover a stronger and more positive identity in themselves. Ironically, it’s that experience of being at home with yourself that makes a person more selfless and charitable—a lesson Gary borrowed from Jesus’ book.”
Born to Serve
Born in Santa Monica, Dickey was raised in the Westwood Village area. He attended University High, completed undergraduate diplomas at UCLA, the University of Oxford, and the University of Toronto and earned his Master of Divinity degree at Fuller Theological Seminary, his Doctor of Ministry from Claremont Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. from Trinity Theological Seminary.
He received his call to ministry through a televised broadcast by the Rev. Billy Graham.
“At this time I felt a divine call and was compelled to change my vocational goal of being a medical doctor for which I was studying at UCLA,” Dickey remembers. “I heard a story of Good News and the call to share God’s love, forgiveness and grace. It changed my direction and has sustained me for 48 years. God has truly been good.”
Before he became the senior pastor at the United Methodist Church, he served at the Magnolia Park Church in Burbank, St. James Church in Pasadena, and First Church in Canoga Park.
“Each were wonderful churches and I have enjoyed continuing relationships with members of each congregation,” Dickey says.
He’s also had the privilege through the years to officiate funeral services for the families of Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Mickey Rooney, Benny Goodman, Kelsey Grammer, Solomon Burke, Jack Kramer, Sally Kellerman, Christopher Jones and countless others.
Rev. Dr. Walter Dilg, who has known Dickey as a clergy colleague for more than 35 years, says Dickey brought a spirit of caring and thoughtfulness, humor and gracefulness to all he did.
“He will long be remembered as the piping pastor as he so often donned his kilts and played his bagpipes for a variety of services and events in the area, such as the Easter Sunrise Service, the Fourth of July Parade, the High School Baccalaureate, and numerous memorial services,” says Dilg, the new senior pastor at the United Methodist Church of Westlake Village. “Gary was a people-centered pastor and provided solid pastoral care to folks in and out of the church.”
Dickey’s outreach to others with his caring heart and gracious spirit has served as an example to Dilg as he begins his ministry in the community.
“Gary will be most missed for his humor, piping, gracious caring and deep faithfulness,” Dilg says.
Since Dickey retired, he’s been approached to serve on many different community boards and agencies.
“But I have told everyone that I’m not going to be taking on any other obligations for at least a year,” he says. “As well, I won’t accept any responsibility that meets at night…my wife is looking forward to seeing me at night.”
Dickey added that his wife, Tami, has played a major role in his ministry.
“She is personable, loving and supportive and has loved my churches and people as much as I have,” he says. “We have been married for almost 42 years and she has stood by my side the whole time both in marriage and as she has stood with me to greet every person going out of church every Sunday. We were a team together.”