By Kay Campbell, The Huntsville Times
HUNTSVILLE, Alabama -- Brace yourself, Huntsville, Buddy Byrd is coming home.
Dr. Carlton Byrd, 39, "Buddy" to his many friends, returns to his alma mater, Oakwood University, on Jan. 14 as senior pastor of the 2,800-member campus church – and also brings in his wake the production center for the international Seventh-day Adventist television program, "Breath of Life."
Dr. Carlton Byrd, speaker director of "Breath of Life" and new senior pastor at Oakwood University Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Dec. 25: Watch "The Present," an hour-long Christmas special broadcast in the Huntsville area via Channel 48 at 2 p.m. on Christmas Day. The program features Oakwood's Grammy Award-winning alumni a cappella group, Take Six, along with Jennifer LaMountain and violinist Jaime Jorge. The program will be heavy on music, and light on preaching, Byrd said.
Jan 14: Installation of Dr. Byrd as senior pastor of Oakwood University Seventh-day Adventist Church will be Jan. 14, 11 a.m. The service will be a live taping of the Breath of Life telecast.
Weekly: "Breath of Life," the international 30-minute broadcast formerly headquartered in California for which Dr. Byrd is speaker-director, can be viewed weekly on Discovery Channel, Word Network, 3ABN, Hope Channel, Blue Mountain Television, Safe TV. The show is carried in the Huntsville area Sundays, 12:30 p.m., on Comcast Channel 3 and Mondays at midnight on MediaCom TV 4. BreathOfLife.tv
Byrd became speaker-director for the 30-minute evangelistic broadcast a year ago. The program's hour-long Christmas special, which was taped at Byrd's 4,000-member Berean Seventh-day Adventist Church in Atlanta, will be broadcast over NBC affiliates Christmas Eve and Christmas Day – including at 2 p.m. on Sunday in the Huntsville area via WAFF, Channel 48.
The move consolidates even more responsibility and visibility to Oakwood, long considered the world center of African-American training for the denomination of about 16.3 million. Bringing the show to Oakwood will be good for everyone, says Tim Allston, director of public affairs for the university.
"That a son of Oakwood is returning as pastor means a lot," Allston said. "And for 'Breath of Life,' moving to the campus will mean a constant infusion of new ideas and new energy – while our communication and marketing students will gain invaluable opportunities for hands-on work and to observe a role model."
Byrd, who also holds a master's in business administration along with a doctorate in theology, is also expected to imbue both the church and the campus with his own energy.
Byrd's congregation in Atlanta, Berean Seventh-day Adventist Church, saw more than 1,700 new members join the congregation, which is now over 4,000, under his leadership the last five years. Before he moves officially to Huntsville – his installation as senior pastor will come Jan. 14 at 11 a.m. – he expects to be able to celebrate with that congregation as they cut the ribbon on a senior citizens' housing apartment complex. The church developed the complex with a $5.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The congregation, in assessing the needs of the inner-city community around it, has also founded a preschool and renovated an old building to use as community outreach and service with a barber shop, health food store and veggie sub sandwich shop.
On Thanksgiving, in addition to feeding more than 1,000, the members offered the homeless and others free haircuts. The congregation is in the process of renovating an eight-unit apartment building that has been donated to them as a shelter for women and children.
The North American Division of the SDA Church noted the church's service to its community when naming the congregation the Innovative Church of 2009.
"The church in Atlanta really bought into the idea of evangelism and church growth," Byrd said. "They are very mission-driven."
Blessing from tragedy
And the congregation resonated with Byrd's leadership style, said David Person, host of WEUP's Talk Radio program and a longtime friend of Byrd's.
"He brings a new modality, a new paradigm to the ministry," Person said. "You have no doubt who the minister is and what the mission is – but he also tears away that veil that usually exists between the clergy and the people in the pews."
Byrd says he had the energy, the training, including a double theology-business bachelor's degree from Oakwood, and the example of his own father, a respected SDA minister, to inspire him to become a minister. But it was personal tragedy, he said, that took he and his wife, biology teacher and Oakwood alumna Danielle Mounter Byrd, to the heart of their faith.
About 12 years ago, their first child, Caitlyn, was killed at 4 months when the family was in an automobile accident.
WEUP Talk Radio host David Person, at left, interviews Dr. Carlton Byrd, speaker-director of "Breath of Life" TV program and newly named senior pastor of Oakwood University Seventh-day Adventist Church. (The Huntsville Times/Kay Campbell)
"Before that, I thought I was living right, doing right, but that truly changed my approach to life," Byrd said last week. "It put into perspective what really matters in life."
During that time, he said, he clung to the promise of I Corinthians 10:13, "God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it." And also the courageous song of Psalm 27: "The Lord is my light and my salvation."
And what matters, for him, is keeping his life in relationship with Jesus. That's what he hopes to point church members and visitors to, and that's what he wants to communicate as the third director-speaker of the 37-year old program, "Breath of Life."
"'Breath of Life' is not just a television program, but a television program with the goal of seeing people accept Jesus Christ," Byrd said.
And thinking of how to make the television program germane to the lives of diverse viewers around the country also will also help him shape his ministry in Huntsville, he said.
"I want to make sure our community understands that there's a place for you," Byrd said. "I want you to say, 'Hey, I can go to Oakwood and I can be blessed' – and not feel pressured like someone is trying to proselytize you."
"I want you to feel blessed," he said. "That's very important to me.
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