Coleman’s 50 teaching years inspires at Wingate
    September 8 2010 by Jennifer Gaskins, Wingate University

    (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 married.

    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 Coleman.

    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.

    Mars Hill photo

    “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,” said Byrns Coleman of his longevity at Wingate University.

    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 seven years.

    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 said.

    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 life.

    “It’s kind of frightening how influential we are without even realizing it,” Coleman said.

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    9/8/2010 6:02:00 AM by Jennifer Gaskins, Wingate University | with 0 comments

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