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August 29, 2013

Life-changing experiences put pastor on right path

NEW CASTLE — Coming home again is a special feeling for the Rev. John Fraser.

The newly ordained pastor has been appointed to Maitland Lane Free Methodist Church. His first sermon there was July 28.

But Fraser had to first travel down some dark roads before finding the light once more.

It was a path obstructed by alcohol, a near tragedy and jail.

Seven years ago, though, he felt the call to enter the ministry.

The East Side New Castle native, 46, was attending New Creation Church, formerly Arlington Avenue Free Methodist Church.

“I was coaxed into doing Bible study and a few people saw something in me and told me I had the calling,” Fraser said.

His friend, Eddie Mack, was one of them.

“John is a strong-willed person,” Mack said. “When he became a Christian, he was determined.”

HEARTACHES AND HEARTBREAKS

Fraser, a Lawrence County Career and Technical Center graduate, served eight years of active duty with the Marines. He was stationed in Australia and Jamaica, and even served security detail under Pres. George H.W. Bush. When he finished two years inactive duty, Fraser returned to New Castle and became a shop foreman for Interchange Specialty Services in Mahoningtown. He also worked at Shenango Bowl-A-Way.

Even before he joined the Marines, Fraser liked to drink alcohol. That didn’t change when he returned home.

“I didn’t feel drinking was a problem and that was the problem,” he pointed out.

One day in 1998, he had too much to drink and pulled out of the bowling alley with his now wife, Mary Jane, and another person in the vehicle, and got into a serious accident. The crash caused both passengers to be flown by helicopter to hospitals.

Fraser was charged with DUI and spent 90 days in the Lawrence County jail.

“It was an experience I wouldn’t ask my worst enemy to go through,” he said, adding the time allowed for reflection and thinking about changing his lifestyle.

Still, after his release, he continued to drink.

He married his wife in 1999. On another occasion, Fraser again drank too much and started an argument with his wife. He asked her to leave and as she went to her car, Fraser attempted to punch a pole but instead his hand went through a single-pane glass.

“The next thing I knew, I was in the hospital and had cut the tendons and nerves in my left hand.”

Most of all, “That put me on my knees.”

Finally, Fraser realized most importantly, he no longer wanted to let down his wife and father, who had always supported him even after the DUI and jail.

He started talking to God and asked for help in overcoming the obstacles and to  turn his life around.

Mack said his friend never lost his faith in Jesus.

“He held on, worked full time and worked through school and that’s not easy.”

RETURNING TO GOD

Fraser started discussing with the Rev. Deano Pulice, then pastor at New Creation, about Fraser’s clear sense that God was calling him into the ministry.

While working full time and raising his now 11-year-old son with Mary Jane, he started training-in-renewal classes in Pleasantville, Pa.

When he first started the classes and was a member of Arlington Church, he attended a revival service at the Maitland Lane Church. Knowing his desire to become a pastor, he told Mary Jane, “This will be my church.”

After becoming a local minister candidate and then a conference minister candidate, in 2010, he was appointed as pastor to a church in North East, Pa.

This summer, Fraser was finally ordained at Pleasantville at a service during the annual conference. He asked to be appointed at Maitland Lane and his prayer was answered. He replaces the Rev. Bill Hargenrader, who is now at another church.

Fraser said he has been received very well and there has been a lot of support from his family and congregation.

All his sermons are Bible based and applied to daily living. He also wants to reach younger worshippers.

“In my short experience as a minister, I realize we are one generation away from not knowing God.”

Mack described Fraser as someone who cares a lot about people.

“He’s able to focus on what’s important and has already made a difference at Maitland Lane Free Methodist Church.”

One church member described Fraser as “a keeper,” Mack said.

“When you turn your life over to Christ, he can makes changes that are phenomenal. John is a case in point. He lives for Christ and we’re very proud of him. It’s an amazing change.”

Fraser took a 180-degree turn, weeded his own garden and is now at a place he knows and loves.

“I feel like I’m home and it’s a great peace being here.”

(Email: lhudson@ncnewsonline.com.)

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