SPRINGVILLE — Despite a lifetime as a Christian, Chip Thornton said he wasn’t truly a believer.
“(Christ) was part of my intellectual world view, but He had never pierced my heart,” Thornton said. “Once the Gospel pierced my heart, that changed everything.”
That didn’t happen for Thornton until he was in law school in Tuscaloosa. By answering the call to ministry, Thornton wound up on a long path that has led him, his wife Kerri and four children to Springville. Thornton started as pastor at First Baptist in Springville Sept. 2.
“I see God moving people to this area,” he said. “I see God’s hand bringing people to us.
“We don’t have to go out, although we will. But God is going to bring a lot of people to us.”
A native of Hoover, Thornton played collegiate soccer at UAB for three years, majoring in accounting. His next stop was Tuscaloosa, to study tax law.
His trip detoured, however, while he was studying to take the law school entrance examination.
“I started listening to Steve Gaines at Gardendale Baptist Church,” Thornton said. “I thought I was saved when I was 7 years old, but I came to the realization that I was not. … I went to a church service and was saved almost immediately.”
Thornton went to Southwest Baptist Theological Seminary in Forth Worth, and completed a master’s degree. Saying he “still didn’t feel qualified” to enter full-time ministry, he began doctoral work at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in Louisville, Ky.
During that time, Thornton said he began praying over a woman from Georgia, whose husband had died in an accident, while she was pregnant with the couple’s first child.
“He asked me to pray for her and I did,” Thornton said. “Some time after that, they decided to set me up with the widow.”
One year to the day after Thornton met Kerri face to face, the two were married. Thornton is the legally adoptive father of their eldest daughter, Libby, 8, and the couple has three sons — Boaz, 4, Titus, 2 and Lazarus (“Laz”), 5 months.
Thornton said the chain of events that brought them to Springville came after much prayer.
“We had prayed about it and felt God calling us closer to our home,” he said. “As we were pulling out of our house in Louisville, I checked the mail one more time and found a letter saying Springville First Baptist had an opening, and they had my resume.
“It’s been a wild ride, a fun ride. I never could’ve thought it up myself.”
Thornton said he sees a great deal of symmetry in the mission of the church, which has been in its current location since 1817 — the second oldest Baptist church in Alabama — reaching out to a brand new population.
“I look at God working,” Thornton said. “In 1817, He set it up so this church could be here for this massive migration of people, and we could be here to be part of that plan.
“This church feels like it was part of the plan, for us to be around for that.”