March 22, 2016
The Byrd Preaching Award was developed in the fall of 1996 when Dr. Howell Todd was president of Mississippi College.
According to Dr. Burn Page, chairman of the Department of Christian Studies, “The original document that characterizes David and Maude Byrd was signed by the late D. M. Nelson, former president of Mississippi College and the one for whom Nelson Hall is named.”
According to Page, the purpose of this award is to encourage expository, biblical preaching and to memorialize the lives of David Q. Byrd, Maude May Byrd, William Ashford (Billy) Byrd and Hal Newton Byrd, all of whom are deceased.
Students who wish to participate must submit a sermon to the Christian Studies department secretary, LaJune White. “Ms. White then places a number on each manuscript and makes copies for each of the committee members who will evaluate each sermon; and then the committee selects the candidate,” Page said.
None of the committee members know the author of any sermon. Once the winner is picked, the committee gives the number to White who notifies the candidate who won.
This year’s winner was Ryan Von Kanel, a junior Christian Studies major. Von Kanel not only won $500 dollars and a certificate, but he also got to speak at Chapel on Tuesday, March 15.
“My first chapel speaking experience was very weighty and a lot of fun, and very encouraging. Anytime I am responsible for preaching God’s word it brings a certain weight with it,” Von Kanel said.
His parents were in town from Alabama to hear him speak and he used the new popular live streaming app Periscope so his family out of town could also hear his message.
“All the students who have since spoken to me have really encouraged me and confirmed to me that preaching is something God has called me to do,” Von Kanel said.
Page was also in attendance to hear Von Kanel. “He did an excellent job with the presentation of the Gospel, and I think Ryan’s preaching ministry will bring honor and glory to Jesus Christ whom he loves and preaches,” Page said.
However, Von Kanel was not the first person this year to be awarded. This year’s competition was originally won by graduate student Amy Jones. Jones was not allowed to officially be recognized because of a rule that was overlooked in the original judging.
“The guidelines listed only a requirement for a commitment to full-time church ministry. As a church musician, I believed I met that requirement. There was no mention of the requirement to be an undergraduate student,” Jones explained.
The sermon she entered was the same one she was going to use last year before she missed the deadline. Jones was understandably disappointed when this rule made it impossible for her to be given the award.
Page said he was pleased when he found out Jones was the winner because she was the first female to win.
“I did not know Amy, but Dr. Michael Johnson had indicated that some students from his Ministry class may submit a sermon, so I thought Amy was one of his students,” Page said. It wasn’t until he and Dr. Eric Pratt were discussing Jones’ availability to speak in Chapel that he was made aware that she was a graduate student.
“I was concerned because we do not offer a graduate degree in Christian Studies and Philosophy and the Byrd Award was set up in the CSP Department. We have never had a graduate student apply for the award so it never occurred to anyone to ask,” Page said.
According to Page, the criteria for entry is as follows: “Any student who is not a graduating senior who has made a commitment to the preaching ministry and has maintained an acceptable G.P.A. will be eligible for the award.”
After this mistake, Page says the department will be sure next year’s nomination forms include all the previously unclear information. Jones was also given a monetary gift equal to that of this year’s Byrd recipient which was $500.
“I deeply regret this misunderstanding, and I greatly appreciate Amy’s attitude,” Pratt said. He and Page agreed that, though she was disappointed when he called, Amy demonstrated “great grace and understanding.”
This award was important to Jones and she hoped it would have helped her in some way. “I had hoped that my appearance in chapel could inspire younger women who might also be interested in full-time ministry,” Jones said. However, she remains positive about what is to come and noted that “Ryan’s sermon was excellent, and I admire that he won over even the people who normally complain about chapel! I understand that it’s a difficult situation, and I am sincerely sorry that all of this happened. Certainly, I would never have entered if I could have known it might inconvenience anyone. Thankfully, I did learn that same week that I placed first in the Arrowhead, so my family looks forward to reading that in lieu of seeing me in chapel,” Jones said.
-Ayanna Bloom, Contributing Writer
this article appeared in Vol. 97, Issue 10 of The Mississippi Collegian