ASHLAND – Harrison, Silver Creek, Harvard, Stromsburg, McCook, Lincoln and Gothenburg.
Those were the Nebraska towns where Pastor Jeff Thurman served in Methodist churches before taking the helm at the Ashland United Methodist Church two and a half years ago.
“We’ve liked everywhere we lived,” Thurman said, seated at his desk in his small, but snug church office.
Everywhere, that is, until the church appointment system asked him to move out of state.
“I am a team player, but that five hour drive down to Kansas was just too far away from our kids,” Thurman said. His children live in Gretna, Lincoln, Kearney and Greeley, Colo.
When the 63-year old got the call to serve in Ashland, he said he and his wife Linda were pleased.
Now, pleasing his congregation each Sunday and going on life’s journey with them is a responsibility he does not take lightly.
Helping people find meaning in their life is a calling, he explained.
“Just like being a teacher. I see people at their best and their worst, from weddings and baptisms, to hospice and funerals,” he said.
One of the drawbacks of serving at one church for a longtime is that the pastor starts burying his friends, according to Thurman.
“Sometimes it’s hard to keep a professional distance,” he said. “The older I get the weepier I get. I cry all the time.”
One topic he’s fascinated in studying is the idea that being a Christian makes life better and makes people better at life. However, he is questioning that logic and looking for evidence.
Thurman said he likes to study specific books of the Bible in depth. He alternates between analyzing books from the Old and New Testaments.
Recently, Thurman’s sermon topic concerned “Finding Your Why.” To help illustrate the struggles inherent in time, death and love, the congregation watched the movie “Collateral Beauty” starring Will Smith.
Thurman uses multimedia frequently during his sermons mainly because he said he is a visual thinker. He illustrates his points using PowerPoint graphics and videos. He uses a clicker to direct the PowerPoint visuals that are projected on a screen behind the podium on the altar.
“That’s the way I think,” he said. “I naturally visualize.”
Thurman said he studied journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, focusing on advertising and broadcasting. His favorite assignment was to create storyboards with visually interesting graphics.
During his first year at UNL, Thurman got a call from God that would change the course of his life. He reacted to the call by quickly pivoting from a career in communications to religion.
Since making that major course change, Thurman said he is excited to preach and teach his congregation.
“I look forward to Sunday,” he said.
When he is not leading the church in Bible studies or preparing for sermons, Thurman said he likes to play the guitar, lead trips to the Holy Land and go mountain biking in Colorado.
Recently, he ticked off an item from his bucket list: Running and biking the Grand Canyon rim to rim.
Lately, he said he has been looking forward to finally staying in one place for a long time.
“This is a great little community,” said the former Husker runner. “Ashland has definitely found its niche.”