“She’s one of life’s walking blessings.”
That’s what Trinity Oaks resident Missy Brown said when asked about the senior living community’s chaplain, Pastor Brenda Bynum.
“She’s so genuine and always there for you when you need her,” Missy Brown said. “She’s one of God’s very special people.”
Bynum became the Trinity Oaks chaplain in October of 2014 and has formed a special and spiritual bond with residents there. They see her as a confidante and someone who always knows exactly what to say in her sermons to provide encouragement and hope.
When you listen to the residents talk about her, you might find it surprising that it wasn’t always her dream to be a pastor.
In fact, it took a family tragedy for her to realize that God was calling her to ministry.
Finding her calling
Bynum was born and raised in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Before she became a pastor, she worked at a Xerox company for 12 years and then opened a secretarial service downtown, The Business Hub, with her husband, Leon.
When they started a family, Bynum decided to switch careers again. She began working as a legal assistant, which gave her more time with her children.
On New Year’s Eve of 1996 something happened that turned Bynum’s world upside down and eventually led her down the path to ministry; her brother, Bobby Richmond, was murdered during an armed robbery in Charlotte.
Richmond was a handyman for Howard Johnson Hotels and traveled to various locations to fix whatever was broken. On that tragic day, he was in a hotel in Charlotte when two men came in, pulled out a gun, and demanded money from the register.
The clerk gave the man the money, but then the robber walked over, put his gun to Bobby’s head and demanded that he also open the safe.
“The desk clerk didn’t know the combination, so the man just shot my brother in the back,” Bynum said. “Then he asked the clerk again, who still didn’t know the combination, so he shot my brother a final time and that was the shot that killed him.”
By January 10, 1996, police had found the shooter, who he is still in prison.
Bynum says she tells that story because “It’s funny how God works.”
As any grieving family member would, Bynum said she was going through a rough time. She was still working with the attorney but felt there was something else she was supposed to be doing. So, she decided to go back to school.
“It was just such a terrible thing to happen, and I think I had such anger about it because we were very close,” Bynum said. “I needed to make a change and I started thinking about forgiveness. I knew I had to move on. I didn’t want that weight anymore.”
She enrolled in religion classes at Greensboro College and immediately impressed her professors. The staff began encouraging her to think about becoming a pastor, but she originally pushed back, saying she was too shy to speak in front of people.
They told her there was only one way to determine if it was the correct path for her; she would have to go to seminary. The only catch was, students are required to live on campus, and Bynum had children at home.
“I went home and I told my husband about my calling and he said he thought it was wonderful,” Bynum said. “He said he’d seen a change in me now that I was doing so much in the church and that we should explore this option.”
After visiting Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina, Bynum knew she was on the right path.
“The grounds were beautiful, the people were really nice,” Bynum said. “It was just like I had stepped on holy ground. I knew this was where I needed to be.”
She graduated from seminary in 2002 and her first calling was to Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Gastonia, North Carolina, where she served as the associate pastor for eight years. After that she stepped down to help form Agape Evangelical Lutheran Church, where she became the mission developer and pastor.
After leaving Gastonia and moving to California, Bynum got a call from the Southwest California Synod saying they needed someone with experience to take on the pastor role at First Lutheran Church. But she only lived there a short while because her mother became ill with cancer and she decided it was time to come home.
And in that funny way that God works, there was a chaplain position waiting on her at Trinity Oaks.
The Perfect Voice for Trinity Oaks
Because she was so heavily involved with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), Bynum also had history with Lutheran Services Carolinas. She served on its board of trustees from 2003-2012. When it came time to start searching for a job back in North Carolina, Bynum listed LSC President and CEO Ted Goins as one of her references.
“I called to ask him if I could still use him as a reference and if he knew of any jobs available,” Bynum said. “He said that as a matter of fact, they had just finished the budget and would now have a fulltime chaplain at Trinity Oaks. He said he couldn’t promise anything, but he would put my name in the hat.”
The rest is history, and Bynum quickly became what the residents refer to as the “perfect voice” for the community.
In her role as chaplain Bynum conducted worship services, led Bible studies, performed pastoral services as requested, provided supply pastoring as needed locally, and acted as liaison with residents and community pastors.
She also enlisted volunteers from across the campus to play piano and assist her in her services. One of those pianists is Missy Brown.
“She always has just the ideal story to go along with the service to make it simple yet deep enough,” Brown said. “That’s what I admire about her. She does messages for a variety of different people, and they are straightforward. Her words are simply perfect for wherever she is talking. It’s a joy to hear her reach out with her words.”
Taking Life’s Next Step
A few months ago, Bynum let the Trinity Oaks community know that she is retiring at the end of this year. In the retirement letter she wrote to Administrator Bill Johnson, she said she feels at peace with this decision, although she will miss the loving and supportive community.
“I never knew, until the last few weeks, that a human heart could be overflowing with joy and overwhelmed with deep sadness all at the same time. But that describes exactly the state of my own heart,” she wrote. “You have been to us a loving, supportive, and gracious community. It has been the joy of our lives as a family to walk together with all of you, to worship with you, to serve alongside you, and to serve and lead as your chaplain.”
She will always be remembered at Trinity Oaks, and many of the residents plan to make sure she is still part of their lives. Missy Brown already requested that Bynum officiate her memorial service when the time comes.
“As far as I’m concerned, she has been my pastor, friend, and a sister,” Deanna Boksleitner, another resident who plays the piano during services, said. “It’s really sad to see her leave here. It was an honor and a privilege to work with her.”