They had opportunities for jobs in Louisville, Ky., and Washington, D.C., but Union's new president, David S. Dockery, was hoping to recruit them to help implement his vision for a Christian university.
"I think the Lord is leading us here to Union," Kimberly said, and Greg agreed, "I think He is, too."
Greg originally came as instructor of Christian studies before moving into roles as professor, dean and vice president. Kimberly came as dean of students. The Thornburys quickly became key leaders on the Union campus, helping give shape and meaning to Dockery's vision.
Now, nearly 15 years later, they are leaving the Tennessee campus to provide vision for The King's College in New York City, where trustees on July 9 elected Greg as the school's president.
Thornbury most recently has been Union's vice president for spiritual life and dean of the School of Theology and Missions. Kimberly is Union's senior vice president for student services and dean of students. She will serve as special assistant to the president for King's College's strategic planning.
Greg described Union as "the happiest place in Christian higher education. It's where people are able to pursue their vision of the good life. It has been a wonderful context in which to lead and to raise a family."
"We fell in love with Dr. Dockery's vision and the people we met at this place," Kimberly said, "and even though it was so outside our comfort zone, we never regretted that decision. We have loved serving with Dr. Dockery and the people here in senior leadership. Working with the students has been a complete joy."
Dockery congratulated Thornbury and The King's College board on his selection as president.
"The King's community will quickly find Dr. Thornbury to be a brilliant scholar, a gifted communicator and teacher, an astute interpreter of theology and culture, a thoughtful and collaborative administrator, a faithful churchman, a convictional evangelical, a devoted Christ-follower and a wise leader," Dockery said.
"These special gifts, along with his years of superb service in Christian higher education, will provide him with the vision and perspective necessary to guide The King's College into a bright and hopeful future in the days to come," Dockery continued. "We certainly join with many others in wishing God's grace and blessings for Greg and Kimberly Thornbury as well as for the trustees, faculty, staff and students of The King's College."
Located on Broadway in the heart of New York's financial district, The King's College was founded in 1938. Thornbury said he will seek to renew the college's emphasis on the genius of Christianity that has shaped the ideas and key institutions of Western culture.
"New York is the center of culture," Thornbury said. "It's the center of the financial and cultural world. There is one freestanding Christian college in that city, and it must succeed. No one will ever get a chance to do this again. We need an institution of higher education that is articulating the cause of God and truth in the greatest city in the world. "
Thornbury said the core programs at The King's College are the same areas he cares about deeply.
"The mission of the college is to prepare the best and the brightest for leadership in strategic institutions of culture," Thornbury said. "Those strategic institutions are business, finance, economics, media, culture, the arts and the church. If somebody could have written the script about the kind of college I would dream up, it would be The King's College."
As dean of Union's School of Theology and Missions, Thornbury recruited such faculty members as C. Ben Mitchell, Justin Barnard, Taylor Worley, Kevin Chen and Frank Anderson. He was heavily involved in starting new campuses in the Nashville and Memphis regions, launching Union's doctor of ministry degree in expositional preaching in Memphis and Singapore and starting Union's first fully online degree -- the master of Christian studies.
"It was a completely wonderful 15 years," Thornbury said. "The vision and mission that we were recruited to help build is a reality now. It has been a wildly successful payoff. That's immensely satisfying, both professionally and personally."
Kimberly led Union to begin such programs as student leadership development, disability services and minority student services. Under her leadership, graduation rates at Union have increased from 55 percent to 67 percent, and retention rates have increased more than 20 percent, making Union one of the top schools in Tennessee and in the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities in that category.
She also provided key leadership at Union in 2008 after an EF-4 tornado struck the campus, playing a crucial role in helping the university rebuild 17 student housing buildings in six months.
Union has named Bryan Carrier as interim dean of students and James Patterson as interim dean of the School of Theology and Missions. Todd Brady, vice president for church relations, will assume leadership of Union's office of spiritual life.
The Thornburys begin their new roles immediately and have already left Jackson for New York. Union will welcome them back to campus sometime this fall to thank them for their years of service and to pray for them in their new positions.
Tim Ellsworth is director of media relations at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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