Consider it the next step up, as in looking up towards the heavens, for three Newcomerstown area natives who have taken the next step in their ministry.

Pastor Bracken Foster of Christ United Methodist Church said three people with ties to Christ United have been approved for pastoral ministry by the 2018 annual conference of the East Ohio United Methodist Church.

"We believe that God is always in the business of calling and sending ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ and we are happy three of our own people have answered that call. We are excited to see how the Holy Spirit will use each of these three pastors to extend God's love and grace into our broken world. Also, we pray that God will use these new pastors to call and send more people into ministry."

J.P. Snyder and Derek Hickman have been commissioned as an Elder in the United Methodist Conference while Lori Stevens was ordained as a Deacon. It should also be noted that J.P. is the grandson of Rev. and Mrs. Ray Snyder, with Rev. Snyder a longtime pastor at Christ United Methodist Church.

Pastor Bracken said a person is commissioned after completing their ministerial education and approval by the Board of Ordained Ministry. A person is ordained after successfully serving as a commissioned minister and further approval by the Board of Ordained Ministry.

Rev. Stevens, who is also the music coordinator for Christ United, said, "I was blessed to work with several pastors along the way who mentored me and helped me develop my leadership in ministry. I had wonderful support from my family and church families.

"Going into ministry was a career change for me but God has been faithful to the calling He placed on my life."

Pastor Hickman said he was not raised in a church-going home, "but in high school, I started dating Jenna (Lenzo), who invited me to church with her at Christ United Methodist Church. I had some assumptions about ‘church people.’ However, when I came to church, I didn't feel judged. I didn't feel rejected. I felt loved and accepted. I was invited to youth groups. Folks invited me to sing in the choir, play in the praise band, and help with children's ministry. Folks at Christ United Methodist Church helped me to feel like I was adding value to the ministry of the church. Not only that, the kind folks at CUMC nurtured my faith. They helped me learn to pray, to read and understand Scripture, and to view the world from a different perspective.

"When I was 17 or 18, I was asked to ‘preach’ at the Sunrise Service for Easter. Afterwards, Pastor Steve Sparling asked if I had ever considered if I had been called to pastoral ministry. I didn't even know what that meant. I shrugged it off and went about my business. Then, while in college at Ohio University, CUMC had lost their youth leaders. So, Jenna andI  decided to fill in while we were on Thanksgiving/Christmas break. I ‘filled in’ for nearly nine years. During that time, I was discipled by great pastors like Steve Sparling, Ron Little, Russ Ham, and Larry Hukill. Those clergy leaders helped me to rightly discern and clarify my call to ministry. The folks in the church affirmed my call to ministry and supported me along the way.

"I can't say enough about how the clergy and lay people at Christ United Methodist Church shaped my faith and made me who I am today. Truly, I have been blessed through the ministry and community of Christ UMC in Newcomerstown."

J.P. Snyder said, "Whenever you process across a stage in a robe it is an amazing experience where much hard work and perseverance comes to a climatic point. This experience in my commissioning was no different. The emotion, however, that accompanied this achievement was not pride, but humility. Each time that I have processed across the stage, first at my high school graduation, then undergrad, later seminary, and here being commissioned, I have increasingly recognized this achievement not merely as an accomplishment attained through my own efforts, but as the grace of God actively working in my life through a facet of different persons and events. Thus, I find in each of these milestones more gratitude and appreciation for all who have labored to teach and guide me to this present point.

"Although the board had already approved me and the conference had elected me to become a provisional elder, it was not until the ceremony that these feelings of humility and gratitude began to flood in. My thoughts flashed to those who supported me throughout this journey both in the good times and the very hard times and everything in between. Knowing that many of those individuals, family, friends, mentors, teachers, peers, and colleges were all standing in support as I kneeled to receive a prayer and blessing from the bishop was incredibly humbling yet incredibly powerful and encouraging.

"One of the greatest parts about that event was being able to walk that stage with Derek, and Lori, through whom I had received much mentorship, guidance, and support through the pursuit of this calling. Knowing that they were one step ahead of me in the journey, being ordained as full members of the church was even further encouragement to continue the path set before me as difficult as it may sometimes be.

"As I took those steps across that stage I realized these were not steps towards a dream or a goal, but a calling. A calling established by the work of God in my life, but enabled through the grace of God in my life found specifically in those persons who positively impacted my life. As I write and continue to reflect I realize that this is not about status, but being positioned in the place that God wants me to be, and a lot of the people that God used in my life were in very different callings than the ordained ministry, but were fulfilling their calling none the less. By trade those who were ordained or licensed ministers, they were teachers, coaches, doctors, construction workers, law enforcement officers, etc. Therefore, as I write this I am also praying that everyone can find their calling and though they may not receive a special ceremony, I hope that as they align with God’s will and call for them, they can experience the same feeling of humility that I felt which was joined with much encouragement and empowerment found in the richness of God’s grace."