Gonzales minister sets mark for tenure at church

On Sept. 15, the Rev. Jim Law set a new record for the 106-year-old First Baptist Church Gonzales.

The church celebrated Law’s 20th anniversary as their pastor, the longest tenure for any pastor in the history of the church.

“When I was in seminary, I sensed a strong calling to be the pastor of a local church. Gwynne (his wife) and I began to pray that God would lead us to a congregation where we could invest our lives,” Law said. “We believe the Lord has answered that prayer so wonderfully in First Baptist Church Gonzales.”

In September, 1993, the couple and 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 and 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 in age from 5 to 21. Their youngest daughter, Esther, was adopted from China in 2011.

Under 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 a ripple effect to the ends of the earth,” Law said. “And I believe we are seeing that happen.”

In the life of any church there are great joys and heartbreaks. 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,” he said. “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.

“I think the fallout from Katrina and the death of Mildred Vessel (along with her daughter and grandson) were two of the hardest ministry experiences I can remember,” the pastor recalled.

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

“Their stories will be etched in my mind for the rest of my life,” he said of the hurricane victims. “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 to escape was to chop through his roof, and from their roof they were rescued by boat.”

Mildred Vessel was a longtime nursery worker at FBCG. Her daughter, Karla Vessel Miller, also served in the nursery. On March 10, 1999, they left FBCG and were gunned down. Mildred Vessel was shot in front of her home, and Karla and her son, Shon Miller Jr., were shot along with others as they attended their Wednesday church services. Shon Miller Sr., Karla’s estranged husband, pleaded guilty to the killings.

“I have thought about that night through the years,” Law said. “My son Daniel, who was 3 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.

“Years later, I still have conversations with people in the community about that funeral,” Law said.

One of the first sermons 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,” the pastor said. “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 elsewhere. 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.”