LIMA — When the Rev. Thomas Eisenman attended a Methodist district youth conference in Bloomsburg, Pa., as a young man, he did not realize it would be life-changing.
“They had an altar call for those who wanted to dedicate their lives to Christian ministry,” explained Eisenman. “I didn’t want to go forward, and I didn’t want to be in ministry. I was young — 18 or 19 years old. I didn’t want the girls to wonder what was wrong with me.”
What happened next, Eisenman said could have only been God working. “Something got a hold of me by my belt,” he said, “and I rose up and went forward.
After Eisenman served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, he received his preaching license through the Methodist church in 1950 while still attending Lycoming College in Williamsburg, Pa., after which he received his first assignment.
“I had eight churches to preach in,” he said. “Every Sunday, I’d alternate four churches,” he said. “The next Sunday, I’d preach at the other four churches. This older preacher would preach at the four churches I didn’t that week, so we shared the responsibility.”
Even though he would preach at four churches in one Sunday, Eisenman said that the churches were no more than 15 miles apart. “Sometime the weather was a problem,” he said. “I’d slide my car by a tree and then I’d go over to preach. Somebody would always take care of the car for me.”
As a young, single minister, Eisenman was invited to Sunday dinner every week. “We usually had chicken,” he said. “I remember, the men would say ‘Thank God the preacher’s coming for lunch. We’re going to get a good meal.’”
It was at his next church in White Haven, Pa., that Eisenman met his wife of 62 years, Sally Eisenman.
“I recommended that she get married,” said Eisenman, “so she married me.”
The couple has three grown sons, grandchildren and even several great-grandchildren.
“It was such a blessing to me,” said Eisenman, “that I got to baptize my twin great-granddaughters last Aug. 25 — little Lilly and Peyton.”
Eisenman, who was ordained in 1954, started his ministry as a Methodist minister and served in several churches, but he did not care for the Methodist practice of moving ministers every few years under the district superintendent’s direction. “That’s why I switched to the United Church of Christ,” he said. “You have to be hired there. You go in and preach and if they like you, they hire you.”
He has served in four different churches since switching to the United Church of Christ denomination, including 10 years at Calvary United Church of Christ, which brought him to the Lima area. He has been at his current church, First Reformed United Church of Christ in Kenton for the past 24 years, commuting from Lima twice a week.
Eisenman’s wife has had cancer since 1989 but according to Eisenman is currently doing well. The couple chose to live in Lima so that she could be closer to where she receives treatment.
At the age of 87, Eisenman is still going strong.
“If I retired, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself,” said Eisenman. “I’d probably just lay about and do nothing. I know one man who preached until he was 91 years old. I’m going to keep going until God draws me home or the church has had enough of me.”
Eisenman has also been very involved in the community. While in Lima, he has been the president of various community groups such as the Shriners, and he was also a member of the Order of the Eastern Star and is a 32nd degree Mason.
Over his long career as a pastor, Eisenman has learned a few things.
“The main thing I’ve discovered,” he said, “as the pastor you have to be concerned about the people. You need to visit those who are sick and in the hospital. People need to support one another, and a church is a good support for people.”
For Eisenman the biggest challenge has always been striking the balance between leading and meeting congregants’ needs.
“You always have to be a people pleaser because if the congregation doesn’t like you, you will no longer be their pastor,” he said, “but you also have to be your own man and be strong so you can lead. I’ve seen some men broken because they couldn’t handle that.”
Despite the challenges of finding that balance over the years, Eisenman said that for the most part, being a pastor has been rewarding.
“The last 24 years have been so good,” he said. “It’s been so enjoyable. I have a great congregation, and we all get along well and take care of each other. People show such kindness and support.”