Colleagues, Southern Hills Christian Church members and friends reacted with shock as they remembered longtime Pastor Gary Byrkit who died unexpectedly Tuesday. He was 65.
While cause of death was unknown, a funeral service has been scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at Southern Hills, at 3207 S. Boulevard, Associate Minister Jenny Wynn said.
Byrkit had been senior minister since January 1987. He was married to Annie Guzman, a registered nurse with a private practice in energy medicine. They have three children: Aaron, who is married to Sarah and lives in Dallas; Trevor, who at the time of the posting on the church website was a student at the University of Central Oklahoma; and Briana, a student at Oklahoma City Community College.
Byrkit penned his staff bio. He marveled at the change during his tenure in Edmond, which has doubled in size, and the church, which has been through three building projects. The staff, too, has nearly doubled since 1987, he noted.
“But what has always impressed me most about this congregation is the energy for ministry,” Byrkit wrote. “The members here believe that faith should have hands and feet. Whether it’s building Habitat houses down in the city, or teaching kids in Honduras, or tutoring inner city children through Whiz Kids, or reaching out to the downhearted through Stephen Ministry, it’s all about sharing the love of Christ that has come to us. And what I like most in my work is seeing people find that place where they can be an example of love to others. That’s what excites me!”
Wynn, who had just returned after two weeks of vacation, said she learned the news when she began receiving text messages and getting calls on her cell phone.
“It couldn’t be real; shock and numb,” she said of her initial reaction.
Tuesday evening, church leaders gathered to talk and grieve the loss of a friend and a mentor, Wynn said. Today, while she has dealt with her own grief, she has ministered to others including members of Byrkit’s family.
“Gary was an amazing, compassionate, gentle, loving person,” Wynn said. “He will be missed by the community.”
She asked for prayers for Byrkit’s family, the church staff, church members and others who were touched by his life.
Longtime Southern Hills member Amzi Gregory, a Vietnam conflict veteran, said Byrkit was a man who put up with his eccentricities. Gregory said Byrkit was in the pulpit Sunday morning, and during the Christian education hour aspects of his sermon related to their study.
Gregory said he first heard the news through a phone call about 5 p.m. Tuesday afternoon. He said he has been trying to come to grips with the totally unexpected loss.
Gregory described Byrkit as a person who was dedicated to his work, honest, a man of integrity.
Another colleague reeling from the news was Don Heath, pastor at Edmond Trinity Christian Church, Disciples of Christ along with Southern Hills. He recalled Byrkit as being genuinely pastoral.
The first time Heath met Byrkit was 10 years ago when Heath was in seminary. Byrkit was part of a three-person commission on clergy team that was interviewing ordination candidates.
“I told him that the biggest problem I had was having too much to do, not taking time for Sabbath each week,” Heath said. “The next time I saw him was a year later. He asked me whether I was getting a Sabbath. He probably saw 15 candidates the year before, but he remembered my concerns.”
Southern Hills Christian Church was organized in 1966. In 1968 the first unit of the present facility was completed. In 1975, 1982 and 1992 new facilities for fellowship and education were added. The church strives to be true to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Locals know the church for its annual pumpkin patch ministry each fall.
Before coming to Edmond, Byrkit served two pastorates in Missouri. He grew up in Peoria, Ill., and was a graduate of Bradley University (B.S.) in Peoria, Eden Theological Seminary (Master of Divinity) in St. Louis, and Lexington Theological Seminary (Doctor of Ministry) in Lexington, Ky.
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