News-Herald Staff Writer

CADIZ – As Pastor Al Hoder winds down his nine-year tenure at the pulpit, he is going out on top. Hoder was recently named Pastor of the Year by lay speakers for the Ohio Valley District of the East Ohio Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. He has been a part of the Asbury Greater Parish, which includes Asbury Chapel plus New Athens, Holloway, Piedmont and Rankin United Methodist churches, acting as director for the past two years.

He was notified last month about the distinction, which comes as he prepares for retirement in late June.

“It’s an exciting honor, but it’s also exciting how many lives I’ve changed and how many people I’ve led to Christ in my years of ministry,” said Hoder.

Through the course of his ministry, he has traveled among five church locations within Asbury Greater Parish to give sermons but also trekked across the state to visit parishioners. Hoder said he has averaged 10-15 hospital visits per week and 30-45 home visits with shut-ins each month. Last month, he put 1,400 miles on his odometer moving between Canton, Pittsburgh and Columbus.

His close bond with his congregation became very strong, and he found himself emotionally impacted by leading funerals of people he considered friends. “When I performed funerals, it was like losing family,” he said.

Hoder noted he would miss parishioners when he finally steps down, alluding to a longtime rule within the Methodist church to avoid access with congregations as the churches transition with a new pastor. Yet he will not stray too far.

“I will miss the people and preaching but will stay on as a supply pastor and fill in where needed. I think the hardest part is not seeing the parishioners for a year,” he commented. “It’s going to be tough.”