First Baptist Church Gonzales celebrates the 20th anniversary of Pastor James Law

Staff Writer
Gonzales Weekly Citizen

On Sunday, Sept.15 the congregation of First Baptist Church Gonzales (FBCG) will celebrate the 20th anniversary of their pastor, Dr. Jim Law.

In September of 1993, Dr. Law and his wife Gwynne, along with their 18 month old daughter Lydia, moved to Gonzales to assume his role as pastor of this 500 member congregation. He was 28 years old at the time and was in the process of finishing his doctoral studies at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

The Law family has expanded over this time to include six children ranging from ages twenty-one to five. The youngest is a little girl they adopted from China in 2011.

With twenty years of pastoral service, Law has registered the longest tenure of any pastor in the 106 year history of the church.

In reflecting on his call to ministry, Law stated, "When I was in seminary, I sensed a strong calling to be the pastor of a local church. Gwynne and I began to pray that God would lead us to a congregation where we could invest our lives. We believe the Lord has answered that prayer so wonderfully in First Baptist Church Gonzales."

His ministry has been marked by the following commitments, "From day one, I have sought to model a thoroughly biblical ministry which has at the forefront Gospel proclamation, biblical teaching, and healthy church life."

Under Dr. Law's leadership, FBCG has a ministry impact around the world. "My passion is to see Christ glorified in this local Body of believers here in Ascension parish with ripple effect to the ends of the earth, and I believe we are seeing that happen."

In the life of any church there are great joys and heartbreaks. Dr. Law has lead the congregation of FBCG through seasons of both, "In these years we have celebrated God's goodness on so many fronts, from the birth of babies, to weddings, anniversaries, baptisms and changed lives. To see the Lord work in someone's life bringing transformation is one of the great joys of the pastorate for me."

Heartaches have been a reality as well. Law reflected on the trials of 20 years of pastoral labor, "I think the fallout from Katrina and the death of Mildred Vessell (along with her daughter and grandson) were two of the hardest ministry experiences I can remember."

By being one of the first major exits on I-10 west out of New Orleans, Gonzales became a city of refugee for many fleeing Katrina.

Law remembered the six weeks following Hurricane Katrina. "Their stories will be etched in my mind for the rest of my life. Like the man from St. Bernard parish who said to me in tears that his wife had insisted that he put an axe in his attic prior to the storm. He told me with emotion that he was so glad he listened to her or they would have drowned in their home. His only way of escape was to chop through his roof, and from their roof they were rescued by boat."

Then there was the tragedy of Mildred Vessell who was a long time nursery worker at FBCG. Her daughter Karla also served in the nursery. On Wednesday March 10, 1999 they left FBCG and were gunned down. Mildred shot in front of her home, and Karla and her son Shon, Jr. were shot along with others as they attended their Wednesday church services. Each was shot and killed by Karla's estranged husband, Shon, Sr.

"I have thought about that night through the years. My son Daniel, who was three at that time, was in the nursery under their care. Shon, Sr., could have just as easily come to our church."

In the aftermath, FBCG was able to host the funeral which provided an important connection in Gonzales with the African-American community. Law noted, "Years later, I still have conversations with people in the community about that funeral."

One of the first sermons Dr. Law preached as pastor of FBCG was from I Corinthians 13 on the subject of God's love. "I have always sought to model and express the love of Christ in my pastoral ministry, and I have always challenged our congregation to be instruments of Christ's love in this world. I believe that if we don't get that right, we won't get much else right."

In looking to the future, Law said, "For me there are no ladders to climb and no greener grass else where. FBCG is a great, loving, and faithful congregation. I am honored to serve as their pastor.

"Someone once teased me by saying that the words 'glorious' and 'Gonzales' have never been used in the same sentence. That may be true, but Gonzales is home for me, and it is the sweetest place on earth to be right where the Lord wants you to be, doing what He has called you to do. In many ways, I feel like I am just getting started here, and I am determined to serve faithfully until the Lord calls me to do something else."