Chris Turner, the new pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church, talks to his congregation during a Sunday meeting.
Plenty of sunshine, wide open spaces, and a small, welcoming congregation were at the top of the wish list for Chris and Amy Turner when they left the shadows of the Appalachian Mountains.
They found it all at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Abilene. Chris Turner, 40, preached his first sermon as the new full-time minister on Aug. 5. As scenic as the Appalachians might be, the Turners grew tired of the shortened days and were ready for a new region of the country with sunshine to spare.
?That and the wide open geography was something we really liked,? Chris Turner said of Abilene.
Westminster had been without a full-time pastor for three years. For the past 10 months, Ronnie Prevost, a professor at Hardin-Simmons University?s Logsdon School of Theology, has served the church.
Before Prevost, the Rev. Henry Chisholm, a retired Presbyterian minister from Brownwood, served the congregation as an interim pastor.
The last full-time pastor at Westminster was the Rev. Jim Wallace, who moved to Amarillo in 2009.
?That?s a long time to not have sustained leadership,? said Bobbie Core, clerk of the session or lay leader of the congregation.
Core said the congregation was delighted to have both Prevost and Chisholm but is pleased to have Turner on board.
?I?m just confident things are going to go well for us,? Core said.
The new minister is equally confident about the church?s future. Like other mainstream denominations in the United States, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has lost membership over the past decade or longer.
Turner is a realist and knows he can?t turn that around overnight ? or ever. He said he believes it is the duty of a minister to tend to the flock given him and not get distracted by membership numbers.
?I don?t worry as much about that as being a good shepherd to my church,? Turner said. ?Whatever happens will be ultimately for the good.?
Turner will focus on being a good shepherd first to his own congregation, but he also expects to be visible in the community. His history supports that assumption.
Before moving to Abilene, Turner and his wife both were active in the communities where they lived. Amy, who is taking a break for the time being, previously worked with victims of domestic violence.
Chris? background includes working as a staff writer for The Morehead News in eastern Kentucky, serving on the city council in Gilbert, W.Va., teaching at a community college in Gilbert and at Morehead State University in Kentucky, and serving on the board of trustees of the University of Pikeville, a four-year school affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in Pikeville, Ky.
His interests and background are so varied that if not for ?divine intervention? he might be a lawyer today instead of a minister. Turner said the strong faith he had as a child began to lag when he was in high school. That led him to choose philosophy as a major at Morehead State University.
That course of study only left him with more questions, Turner said. Next, he decided to get a master?s degree in English, but that also didn?t fill the void.
Turner said his road back to the church began on Feb. 1, 1998, when he was sitting on the couch at home and realized he wanted to do more with his life than what he was doing.
?Today, I would say the Holy Spirit was working in me,? he wrote in the biographical statement he submitted to the search committee at Westminster. ?I would like to say everything changed from that moment, but God did not plan for it to be that easy.?
It would be sometime in the future before Turner fully understood what God was calling him to be. He eventually applied at both Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and at the University of Louisville law school in Kentucky.
Turner already had been accepted to law school on the day the letter of acceptance arrived from the seminary. He had decided to go on to law school ? but that was before he finished reading the second letter.
?As I was reading the acceptance letter from the seminary, I began to cry,? he wrote in his biographical statement. ?All I can say now is that it must have been the Holy Spirit, because I have no other answer.?
From there, Turner had no more doubts about his career choice. He and Amy and her two daughters moved to Louisville in 2002. Amy served as director of a women?s domestic violence shelter while Chris was in seminary.
During the last two years of his seminary studies, Turner served a small church in Grayville, Ill., about 120 miles from Louisville. He later served a small rural church in eastern Kentucky before accepting the position as pastor of Gilbert Presbyterian Church in West Virginia.
While in Gilbert, Turner also got talked into filling a term on the city council, served on the board of trustees of the University of Pikeville, and taught theology and history at the local community college.
Having just one job will be a change for Turner. But considering his background, that might not last for long. He said he might consider teaching again, and he has been involved in the broader Presbyterian Church.
For now, though, Turner, his wife and their two dogs, Sasha, a husky/collie mix, and Sadie, a German shepherd, are going to enjoy the sunshine and wide open spaces of West Texas.
?We felt God called us here,? Turner said. ?Each day we are here, we are reassured this is where God called us.?