Gulf Coast Circuit
Cottonwood Conference – South Atlantic District
The Gulf Coast Circuit is one of the more unique circuits in the WELS because it is spread out from Baton Rouge to Tallahassee. Since it encompasses such a large geographical area, the men of the circuit spend half a day or more when they meet. And they almost always meet at Saving Grace Lutheran Church in Mobile because of the central location, although it is still a four hour drive for several of the pastors. One pastor commented that the drive with other brother pastors he picks up along the way is one of the more enjoyable parts of the circuit meetings. Many informal and helpful conversations regarding ministry issue occur during these long drives.
The circuit meets monthly except when there is a conference or district meeting. Every January, they join with other circuits in the Cottonwood Conference for a “super circuit” meeting that allows for a bigger group discussion (see Magnolia Circuit for more information).
Their meetings usually begin with the group going out for lunch (mornings are consumed with travel). When they gather back at the church, their opening devotion consists of watching and listening to a video of a sermon. They have chosen to watch a video of one of the men preaching to his congregation because it feels more “real.” Feedback and critique are given.
One of the men (chosen on a rotating basis) then leads a sermon study on one of the lessons for an upcoming Sunday. The leader chooses the text. The Greek or Hebrew is explored.
A variety of things are done with the rest of their time together, usually of a practical nature. Because this circuit is made up of mostly younger pastors in mission-type settings, there is a lot of sharing of practical resources. Men who have interests or abilities in a particular area share their work and expertise with their brothers in the circuit: worship plans and calendars, sermon series, Bible classes, other worship-related suggestions and ideas, evangelism publications, and book reviews.
Their meetings wrap up with some fellowship time at the home of the circuit pastor (Pastor Lewis is the pastor in Mobile). The men head home between 5:00-6:00 PM.
Recently, the Gulf Coast Circuit assembled at the beach condo of a member of one of their churches to watch the livestream of the Seminary Symposium and discuss the papers. Despite a few technical difficulties, this proved to be worthwhile and something they plan to repeat in the future.
Because this circuit is so spread out, they cherish fellowship time with families. Because they are far from their extended families, their brothers in the ministry and their families become substitutes. For some circuit meetings, the families come to Mobile on Sunday and spend time together that evening and the meeting begins on Monday morning. During synod convention years, they get together with their families in the Florida panhandle to study the BoRaM together… literally on the beach.
There are several items about the study plan of the Gulf Coast Circuit worth noting:
- The commitment of the men of the Gulf Coast Circuit to basically devote a full day a month to getting together for fellowship and study serves as a great example.
- Sharing resources is a wonderful way to help the newer and younger men who have come into the Gulf Coast Circuit in recent years. This way they don’t have to “reinvent the wheel.”
- Gathering to watch the livestream of the Symposium is something worth considering by other outlying circuits where attending the Symposium in person might be a challenge.
- The fellowship time for families is especially important for young pastors serving in areas where the nearest WELS church is sometimes several hours away.
Here are a few suggestions for circuits that would consider adopting/adapting larger or smaller portions of the plans of the Gulf Coast Circuit:
- From time to time, maybe consider adding the study of one of the Lutheran Confessions or a theological topic.
- In place of or in addition to the sermon study working through a book of the Bible exegetically to see the broader context and flow of thought of a particular portion of Scripture can be valuable.