The path towards ministry can be filled with many twists and turns, and Jay Neal, longtime resident of Sweetwater, is intimately familiar with just how winding that path can be. On Sunday, July 15, Lillian Jane “Jay” Neal was ordained into ministry at Emmanuel Fellowship Church in Sweetwater. Her ordination follows a recent retirement from a 29-year career as a public school teacher and marks an exciting new season in her life and spiritual journey.
Serving as a minister in a local church has not always been on the agenda for Neal. Growing up in a Christian home, she received Jesus as her Savior in the sixth grade. Church continued to be important, but a season of life she describes as filled with “bad choices and terrible consequences” left her struggling to provide for her family and questioning where she fit in the church.
A key turning point in Neal’s spiritual life came when she attended a Walk to Emmaus weekend retreat. Through that retreat she felt a deepening in her relationship with God, an immediate shift in her priorities and she began to feel a call from God that burned in her heart.
Following the Emmaus weekend, Neal was encouraged by a family member to visit Emmanuel Fellowship Church. After her second visit to Emmanuel Fellowship, she knew it was where she was supposed to be. Neal’s connection to EFC was the decision that began to direct her toward active service in the church and prepare her for ministry. Neal and her husband Paul became members of the church and began taking intentional steps to grow, learn and develop as followers of Jesus. Those steps lead Neal to moments that have stretched her faith, drawn her out of her comfort zone and taken her around the world to share the message of Jesus with others.
When asked to summarize the path that has led her into ministry, Neal responds, “It’s going to the pit and being rescued. It’s learning to hear the voice of the Lord. It’s being quick to obey His call, without fear. It’s jumping in with your whole heart, holding nothing back.”
Neal is currently in Uganda on a three-week mission trip with Pearlene Nolan of His Joy Ministries. She will join the staff of Emmanuel Fellowship Church this August as their Pastor of Supernatural Ministry. Her responsibilities will include leading the healing and ministry team for the church, overseeing the Sweetwater Prayer Center and assisting Pastor Eric von Atzigen in providing spiritual care for church members.
Neal's journey toward ministry has served as an example to others that even through the most painful circumstances, we can find peace in the grace of God. Every person’s life is a work in progress and Jay believes God still has a plan for people, no matter the mistakes they have made. Contemplating the next steps in her unfolding story, Neal remarks, “I look forward to the future. I feel so alive, and so fresh. God just knows what He is doing!”