First Call Accompaniment in the Gulf Coast Synod
By Tracey Breashears Schultz, Bishop’s Associate for Leadership
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!” (Isaiah 6:8)
On September 23-25, the Gulf Coast Synod hosted the annual Fall First Call Retreat
attended by pastors and deacons in their first three years of ministry who are serving in one of the three synods in Texas and Louisiana. Thirty participants enjoyed a time of learning, worship, conversation, and fellowship. Lutherhill (La Grange) proved to be the perfect setting for our time together.
The theme this year was “Spirituality and the Other.” We were led in our work by Robert Smith, Executive Director of Briarwood, who challenged us to confront racism, white supremacy, sexism, xenophobia, and many of the other “isms” which keep up from fully loving our neighbors. Also serving as presenters were Lenny Duncan, who joined us by Zoom, and Vance Blackfox, who opened our eyes to the history of Native Americans and the myth of the doctrine of discovery.
Throughout the event, we enjoyed tasty meals, campfires and s’mores, and opportunities to connect with colleagues. One afternoon, we set aside time for camp activities like walking the labyrinth and doing low ropes. We worshiped daily in Carby Chapel, each service led by one of the three synods. By far, based on the feedback the planning team has received, the most meaningful part of the retreat for our first call ministers was the opportunity to share ministry highs and lows with their peers and to support and encourage one another. When one answers the call to attend seminary and to become a minister, one cannot plan for all the ups and downs awaiting us. This is why First Call Accompaniment (FCA), or the opportunity for those in their first calls to journey with one another, is so important.
FCA intentionally seeks to help our newest ministers get the best possible start as missional leaders in congregational ministry. We want them to thrive in ministry and not just to merely survive. We want, too, for them to retain the passion of their calls in the face of resistance. We understand there are three primary sources of on-going learning once a person is ordained: 1) Our ministry settings teach us what they expect and need from their leader; 2) Our colleagues and other sources for continuing education are there with us and for us; 3) the Holy Spirit continually works in us to shape, refine and guide us in our growth and development as servant-leaders.
We offer three FCA events each year: May, September, and January. Our fall retreat is always planned jointly with the other Texas-Louisiana synods. I am so grateful for these partnerships and especially for Pastors Marcia Kifer and Tammy Sharp who serve on the planning team with me for these events and who make themselves available as mentors and friends to those who are new to ministry.