Harvest Community Church in Fallston had fallen on hard times. With a dwindling congregation and other factors, something had to happen and some tough decisions would have to be made.
At the church's start in the late 1990s, things seemed to be going pretty well for the small church along the rolling hills of Route 152 in Fallston. Norm Meadows, who along with his wife, Barb, were charter members, recalls the small sanctuary being filled with up to 100 folks looking to hear the good message each Sunday.
Over time, with people becoming increasingly busy with life in general and folks "maybe looking for more of a feel good message rather than preaching straight from the Bible," Meadows said, the weekly congregation started to dwindle.
Numbers began to decrease with some Sundays only seeing a handful of people attending service. Church leadership knew something had to be done, so they set out to find a new pastor to help get things back on track.
Meadows recalled during a recent interview how his wife had been in Bel Air for some errands last year and came across two Bel Air Police officers. After some quick conversation she asked one of the officers about family friend Matt Gullion, an officer with the Bel Air Police Department, who she knew also was a youth pastor and studying at Lancaster Bible College. The officer agreed to pass along her husband's number to Gullion.
"I had completed a memorial service at Upper Chesapeake [Medical Center] for sheriff's deputies [Patrick] Dailey and [Mark] Logsdon," Gullion recalled. The two deputies were shot to death in the line of duty in February 2016.
"I said to my wife, 'I really wish I could minister to people like I got to do at this memorial service, that's really what I feel called to do, speaking to people and sharing the truth with them, but relevant truth, not just pounding something into them. Let's make it relevant to what we're dealing with right now," he said.
After returning to work later that day he received a text message from a fellow Bel Air Police officer about a woman he had spoken with asking him to pass a phone number along to Matt Gullion.
Recognizing the two phone numbers in the message, Gullion picked up the phone and called Norm Meadows, whose sons he knew well from Harford Tech and from the church community. Meadows explained that the church was in a bit of a bad way and was looking for some spiritual encouragement.
Gullion said he asked who was preaching at the church and Meadows paused before saying they didn't have a preacher and no one was leading the worship.
"Well Norm what's going on?" Gullion said he inquired, and Meadows answered the congregation was down to just a few people.
"My heart sank because I have a heart for local churches," Gullion recalled.
Meadows continued to tell Gullion that his name had come up because they knew he was in seminary and studying for his bachelor's degree in Biblical studies at and maybe he could come out and offer a few suggestions, a little advice on what the church should do next. The two agreed he would come out to lend a hand.
Gullion had applied for a position at a church in Hendersonville, Tenn., a few years ago, for which he admits he knew he was under-qualified. Gullion received a response explaining that his qualifications were only related to public service and law enforcement and he needed more than that for the position in the church.
The Harford County native had served with the Darlington Volunteer Fire Company for approximately nine years and began with the Bel Air Police Department in 2000 as parking enforcement monitor working his way up to his current position, corporal in criminal investigations.
"I thought to myself, 'you know they're right, I'm in love with God's word, I practice it every day, let me go a little deeper,'" he said.
With an associate's degree already under his belt, Gullion searched for a place to earn his bachelor's degree.
"I went to Lancaster Bible College because I needed more, something other than law enforcement, as I learned from the resume. Let me start perusing this," Gullion said.
"While I as there I fell in love with learning," he continued. "After 15 months I got my bachelor's degree, did very well and the whole time I'm finishing that up I'm thinking, 'I think I can do a master's degree," Gullion said, laughing.
After meeting with the college president several times, Gullion began his master's program, which he completed at the end of July.
In September, he started to pursue a doctorate at the college in leadership as it relates to resiliency in law enforcement. While attending Lancaster Bible College, Gullion decided to go into a seminary.
"The reason for going to seminary was for leadership studies. That's the whole purpose I went to seminary and graduate school was to learn more about leadership," he said.
Keeping his word, Gullion visited Harvest Community Church and during a meeting, Meadows explained the church's situation and said: "We're looking for a new preacher, would you be interested? " Meadows said.
Gullion, a father of three young daughters, already had a lot on his plate.
He explained that the time may not be right for him to take the position but he would be willing to come in as an interim pastor while the church continued its search. This would offer a great experience for him and help the church at its tough time.
The church seemed to be in great shape financially, resources were in place and it had everything it needed, according to Gullion.
"It seemed like it was at a point where they needed someone with the knowledge I was learning about in my leadership studies. So it was a perfect fit with what I had been studying at seminary," he said.
For the first few weeks, Gullion said, he wanted to stay focused on being a change agent. Identifying key problems and with a great team around him, many of whom are still with the church, he rolled up his sleeves and got to work as an interim pastor.
"We sat down and talked about a lot of things and that was my first time really actually leading meetings," Gullion said. "I showed up to these meetings with all sorts of stuff, my textbooks, notes from classes… God gave me the opportunity to immediately implement everything I was learning and I can say that it works. What they taught me I put in place here and it seemed to work."
After the agreed six-week period was up, the team asked Gullion to stay on and be their pastor.
"I said, 'No, I'll help you find a pastor,'" he said. "The whole time I'm thinking, 'I've been brought here to help bring the community and the church back up to their feet.'"
Gullion agreed he would be the interim pastor for approximately six months, but then the church would have to come up with another plan. In late June to early July, members of the team decided that they were not taking "no" for an answer this time and were selecting Gullion as their next pastor at Harvest Community Church.
"I know I'm being called to be the pastor of a church but, is this the right, time, place, is this the one I'm supposed to be leading?" Gullion said he asked himself. "That's a heavy decision to make."
Reflecting on some of the people who inspired and mentored him as he started in the church, Gullion credits local pastors such as Harold Hubble, Bob Bullis, Steve Smith, Ed Stoeker and Tim Chesser.
Chesser also served with Gullion as temporary pastor and helping officiate services at Harvest Community Church. After some heavy thinking and talking it through with Tamara, his wife of 10 years, and other family in and outside of the church, Guillion came up with his answer.
"If I can keep this team, let's do it! I want this team to stay together," he said he told the Harvest Church group.
"He is a truly a good person, said Chesser, who officiated his installation service. "There are so many good things I could say. He has a true heart for people, very humble and wants to do wants to do what's right and follow God's leading for the church and in his life. That's what makes him a good fit for the lead pastor at Harvest Church."
After serving as the interim pastor since February, Gullion was officially installed as the lead pastor at the Harvest Community Church on Sept. 24.
During the installation service, those in the congregation gathered around their new pastor and his family in the front of the small, modest sanctuary to pray together for an exciting new chapter they were beginning to write in the church's history.
"I see good things coming for church with him as pastor," said Norm Meadows. "He has a heart for God and the people. He's young, energetic and has been well received by the church."
After the installation service, many members of the congregation congratulated Guillion and offered their support as he ushers in what he and others in the church hope is a new era for Harvest Community.
"We're reinventing the church, this Harvest Church of 2017 is not the Harvest Church from when it was founded or even from 2015 when the founding pastor left his position," he said.
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"We're reinventing the church for 2017 in today's issues of what we're facing," Gullion said of his vision for the small church on the hill.