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Alum Chris Turner finds small church ministry nurturing

Oct 12, 2009
LPTS Alum Chris Turner welcomes Louisville Seminary to his church.

On Sunday, October 11, President Dean K. Thompson preached at Gilbert Presbyterian Church, in Gilbert, West Virginia, where LPTS alum Rev. Chris Turner has served as pastor since graduating from Louisville Seminary in 2005.

In the following interview with Toya Richards, Turner expressed how excited he has been about how the Holy Spirit is working among the congregants of his small, Southern West Virginia church.

“We are really getting into the Bible and the Confessions more and more. To witness people’s fresh understanding of our Reformed heritage has really been wonderful,” said Turner, the pastor of Gilbert Presbyterian Church, located in a town of about 400 people.

Understanding religious identity and heritage is especially important in a small town, where there is a tendency for all of the churches to mimic each other, he said. Yet as his church’s membership gains more knowledge about what it means to be Presbyterian, “that is empowering them,” said Turner, who earned a Master of Divinity degree from Louisville Seminary in 2005.

A native of Eastern Kentucky and Appalachia, Turner was prepared culturally for what awaited him in Gilbert. On top of that, he said his field education experience at Louisville Seminary enhanced that preparation even more.

During Turner’s second and third years of at Louisville Seminary, he served Grayville Presbyterian Church, a small congregation in Illinois that was preparing to close its doors. He drove 121 miles each way to help guide the worshippers with preaching and teaching, advice and counsel.

“They [the congregation] … helped me see what a preacher does,” he said. “The discipline of that really helped me discern that pastoral ministry was for me.”

That training also helped Turner solidify his decision to move into small-church ministry. Turner, whose background includes teaching English as a second language at Morehead State University, said his “field education placement was very much a watershed experience in my life.”

Since accepting his first call directly out of Seminary at Gilbert Presbyterian Church, which has almost 60 members, Turner and his family have felt embraced and supported. “We’ve established a really good relationship with the church members and the Session,” he said.

They also have assimilated into the community. Among other things, Turner sits on the City Council and has taught an introductory religious studies course at a local college, and his wife, Amy, directs a substance abuse and domestic violence recovery program for women which she started.

Turner is pleased with the bonds that have been created, and said the solid relationships are bearing fruit in his congregants’ willingness to consider change.

“They’ve been very open to changing some things in worship,” he said. Doing things differently has included having the Lord’s Supper more frequently, incorporating more scripture into the service at times, and spending a year going through the Heidelberg Catechism.

“They are really receptive … if you have sound theological reasons for considering change,” he said of his members.

All of that rests well with Turner, who also is learning to stretch himself. With the closest town 45 minutes away, “I am learning to be self-sufficient in my own learning.”

He draws on resources and support “beyond the bounds” from other ministers, elders, and colleagues at the Seminary, and even the Internet.

It is important to be “proactive” about reaching out to form your own support system, Turner said. “Seminary gave me a solid foundation that has enabled me to continue my own study.”

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