(EDITOR’S NOTE — Each North
Carolina Baptist college was invited to submit an article for a feature package
in the Sept. 11 issue of the Biblical Recorder. Scroll to bottom to find links
to all the stories.)
After teaching religion for
50 years, Byrns Coleman is a Wingate institution.
In the classroom, at faculty
devotionals, carrying the mace at baccalaureate and commencement, comforting
peers or talking to students Coleman is there for moments big and small.
Coleman is an eternal
optimist and his emotional roots in Wingate run as deep as his long career and
perhaps were planted when he met his future wife, Alice, upon his arrival on
campus at age 25. Alice was an assistant librarian and the two hung out with a
group of new faculty members. After 47 years, the couple is still happily
Rather than talk about
himself, Coleman points out the people most important to him — his family,
friends, former pastors and teachers. Their photos and newspaper articles about
them adorn his office walls.
A family photo shows the
entire Coleman clan, including the three children, all of whom graduated from
Wingate into medical careers. Bookcases from floor to ceiling are stacked full
of books by some of his favorite authors William Barclay, C.S Lewis, Paul
Tournier. It’s easy to feel at home and inspired in the office of Byrns
He chuckles when he recalls
the early days sharing a basement office with Dean Donald Haskins. Back then,
accommodations were sparse and the two professors had only one chair for students
to sit in when they visited.
“When a student came in one
of us would have to leave,” he said.
How does a professor stay
engaged and fresh for 50 years? “I’ve kept reading, and I attend a lot of
workshops,” said Coleman. “Teaching in itself is a constant learning experience
because the teachers always learn more than the students.”
Greek and the Gospels are
his favorite courses to teach because they help with interpreting the New
Testament. Not only has he taught the subject at Wingate; Coleman has been an
adjunct professor at Gordon Cornwell Theological Seminary in Charlotte for
Coleman’s influence extends
far beyond campus and into local churches where he has been interim pastor of
some churches as many as four times.
This year, the Baptist State
Convention of North Carolina honored Coleman with the Baptist Heritage Award,
given to individuals who represent exemplary giving and service to
organizations associated with the Convention.
Despite many requests,
Coleman resisted the temptation to be a fulltime pastor. “I have too many
emotional hang-ups to do what pastors do,” he said. “I have had opportunities
to leave, but each time, so many exciting things were happening around here
that I decided to stay to see what would happen next.”
When people ask Coleman if
he is ready to retire, he says, “Every morning when the alarm goes off.” Just
to stay on his toes as chairman of the religion department, he assigns himself
an 8 a.m. class each day and teaches four classes a semester.
Outside the classroom,
Coleman teaches a weekly Bible study program on Wingate University television.
As he recalled his pilot show for the station 20 years ago, he pulled out of
his desk a letter written by a 78-year-old woman who had watched his program
and requested his Bible study planner. “She was so inspired by one of the
programs we did with Rev. Darrell Smith that she thanked us for helping her
realize that her life is not yet over and that she can still be useful,” he
He has performed the
weddings for so many former students he has lost count. Coleman has taught
his share of former students’ children and has even had his own children in his
classes “Haskins and I used to laugh and say when the grandkids show up in
class, we’re leaving,” he said.
He recalled a mother who
recently introduced her son to him and said she wanted him to take Coleman’s
class like she did 20 years ago because some of the things he said changed her
“It’s kind of frightening
how influential we are without even realizing it,” Coleman said.