"Much of my life is colonized with work responsibilities, family obligations, community commitments and the like. Keeping bees gets me out of those elements, into the place where I usually work alone. That old hymn reads, "In the rustling grass I hear him pass, he (God) speaks to me everywhere." I really feel connected to God while I'm working my bees. At least until my cell phone goes off." --Grant Gillard
Keeping bees is Spiritual for Presbyterian Pastor
By Chris Pagano
Whether it's removing bee swarms from a home, delivering a sermon, making calls to the homebound, selling honey at the Farmer's Market, presenting Farm Day programs to school children or at Wal-Mart waiting his turn at the checkout, Grant Gillard takes the time to interact with people. Lately, as president of the Missouri State Beekeeper's Association, he's branching out to make presentations and interact with people about beekeeping all over the state and nationally. Self published on the subject, his latest book is titled, "Why I Keep Honeybees (and why you should too!), and is part of his Beekeeping 101 Series.
Grant said, "I love being with the bees, though it is highly seasonal. From October to March there is very little to do, the bees don't hibernate but they go dormant. In the summer I continue to ponder what life would be like to keep bees full time, professionally as if my livelihood depended upon it. Since I keep bees recreationally to offset my pastoral responsibilities, I imagine I would be preaching recreationally to offset my beekeeping responsibilities."
Grant decided he wanted to become a pastor at age 23. After attaining a bachelor's degree in animal science and a double minor in agronomy and agricultural business in 1981 at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, Grant returned home to the family farm in Minnesota and pursued specialized markets. All the while he maintained an active church life at First Presbyterian in Albert Lea, Minn. Having had a taste of beekeeping when he signed up for Entomology 222 to boost his grade point average, the idea of becoming a commercial beekeeper began in 1981 when he started raising bees on the family farm in Glenville, Minn. At this time he served as an elder at his church and was active with the youth there. Several in the congregation had asked him if he'd ever thought of becoming a pastor, but it never really phased Grant… until one day when his pastor, Elmer Bates, asked him to come into his office, approaching him with the same question. Grant seriously believed his pastor had been talking with other church members and hence, resulted in the question about becoming a pastor. But, no, that was not the case. It was around that time that he began to seriously consider the ministry. Soon after, Grant decided to attend Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, Calif.
Grant's business card identifies him as Rev. Grant F.C. Gillard, Presbyterian Pastor and Beekeeper. Organic honey is what he's produced for about a decade and sold at farmer's markets and retail stores, such as Natural Health Organic Foods in Cape Girardeau. Also collected locally, the honey is a benefit to people suffering from seasonal allergies because it is believed to prevent symptoms. It also tastes good and for Grant, his bee operation goes beyond medicinal benefits.
One of the reasons he keeps bees is to maintain his sanity and stay connected spiritually. "Much of my life is colonized with work responsibilities, family obligations, community commitments and the like. Keeping bees gets me out of those elements, into the place where I usually work alone. That old hymn reads, "In the rustling grass I hear him pass, he (God) speaks to me everywhere." I really feel connected to God while I'm working my bees. At least until my cell phone goes off.
The steel building being erected in Grant's backyard is making its impact in his beekeeping. Driving by the family home, passersby knew where they could purchase honey by means of an honor system honey stand near the property's edge closest to the street. Grant's addition of a "Honey House" will take the place of honey production areas in the family home that have overflowed from the family room, garage, bedroom and kitchen. The business of producing honey just continues to grow. And if you ask Grant about it, he'll just say, "The bees do all the work." Once the Honey House is complete there will be space for extracting honey, bottling it and loading and unloading the truck used to deliver bee equipment, honey and the essentials to present information to the public about bees. Thirty one years ago Grant suited up to become a beekeeper. Seventeen years ago he was ordained as the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson. The two just seem to work together.
HIs sermons seep into the lives of community members and members of the congregation via ordinary topics and bring light to the stuff you may be taking for granted, stuff you may have been neglecting to face…the truth, even, and partner with the gospel to provoke thought that can adjust attitudes and change lives. He includes football, planting, bees, nostalgia, food, piano lessons, disruptive children and even jokes which may be considered a little corny in his sermons. When I interviewed him in 2001 he said, "There is something going on in my sermons that I don't control, something going on in what people hear," when he was explaining his ministry. He said he truly believed that through the power of the Holy Spirit his sermons took on a dynamic energy enabling people to receive the Holy Spirit." Check it out and see; truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.