At most churches, once a pastor is selected they are immediately installed, and they begin the process of taking care of church business. Like other churches, Berean Raleigh did this. Byron Benton would commute back and forth between New York and North Carolina every other week, between Berean Brooklyn—known for being the oldest black church in Brooklyn—and Berean Raleigh, the second branch of the church.
Becoming the pastor of Berean Raleigh required Byron Benton to do two things that he thought he would never do; the first was to return to his home state of North Carolina, and the second was to become a pastor of a church. It’s not that he didn’t want to be a preacher—he did. Long before he even drew his first breath, his Grandmother, Sadie Robinson Spinks, also known as GaGa, prophesied that he would be the next preacher in the family. "This is going to be the next preacher," Mother Spinks would declare while baby Byron was still in his Mother’s womb.
I think [a lot of people] saw it as an old lady talking. She was a preacher’s wife and Daughter - Pastor Byron
As a matter of fact, at an age where most children decide that they are going to become veterinarians or firefighters or teachers, four-year-old Byron knew that he wanted to be a preacher. For many of his early years if you asked him what he wanted to be, that’s exactly what he would say.
“Most people didn’t believe me. They thought it was a phase,” he said.It was some time later that he, too, would change his mind. Before all of thishappened, his GaGa, understood his calling, even though Byron would briefly decide that his path would be different.She spent her remaining years preparing him for what she knew would be his future.
“My Grandmother has always played a part in major parts of my life,” he said, Including his decision to accept his call.
They say your arms are too short to box with God, so instead Pastor Byron figured that maybe he would bargain with him instead, “The deal I cut with God was, I will be your pastor, but under one condition: if you equip me to not recreate the hurt that I have experienced,” he said while chuckling.
If you ask any of his members, it is clear that God did equip him. He is the leader of a church where hurt isn’t the rule, and he is very actively engaged in making sure that that is not the case. But preventing other people from being hurt didn’t mean that Byron wouldn’t experience hurt anymore. “When GaGa died, and I was in the 6th grade, I felt like the only person that under- stood me, God took her away from me. I held that until my senior year. After my Grandfa- ther died, she had one assignment left, and that was to sow the seed in me. And in the sixth grade, she had done that,” Pas- tor Byron said as his voice trailed off.
He said It wasn’t until much later that he was able to understand this, reflecting he added, “She had to leave me. I had to continue on without her if I was going to be who God called me to be. Her work was done, and my work was just beginning.”
Although GaGa’s mission had been completed, his Mother’s piano teacher, Mother Portia Crawford would send him a birthday card each year remind- ing him how he would read the scriptures when he was a boy.
“Even though Pastor Byron largely credits the realization of his life as the head of a church to his GaGa, he had a wonderful support system at home. “My parents have always been supportive. I remember marching at Florida A&M and looking up into the stands and thinking my parents are somewhere up there. I could not have asked for better parents or a better family,”he exclaimed but,withhis Grandmother gone, he still felt very alone.
Pastor Byron’s Mom, Gwendolyn Benton explained the close bond that he and her mother shared. Like any Grandmother, GaGa even proudly called him by a pet name.
“She called him ‘Shang’ (which means He who shouts.) from the time he was born. She kept him while I worked from the time he was three weeks old until he went to kindergarten. She was a retired elementary teacher and a true woman of God. She passed in 1994 about four years prior to his answering God's call for him to preach,” explained Mama Benton.
He had lost more than a Grandmother. He had lost his spiritual guide and friend. GaGa’s death and his own incident of church inflicted hurt took its toll on Pastor Byron. “I left NC feeling rejected from my own state. However, the longer I stayedin Brooklyn and the more success I had, the more it tugged on me to come back.”
Around the same time that a younger Byron was being prepared for his calling, Yasmeen Hardaway’s life was being shaped by her Grandmother, as well.
“In my pre-k year book, there was a question that asked what we wanted to be. I knew I wanted to dance. I started at three,” explained Lady Yas.
My Grandfather was one of the head Deacons and my Grandmother had me participate in every church recital.
“Around 11, when I was getting serious about dance, my friend’s Grandmother started a dance ministry at church. I was in the dance ministry my whole time in high school. Eventually I was the only one left in the dance ministry.”
But even being the only one, Lady Yas found comfort and support in her passion for dance.“9/11 happened at the beginning of my sophomore year in high school.” She was literally a few blocks from where the Twin Towers were falling. “After that I was going through a tough time. I needed an outlet to work through the hurt and pain. I was able to help myself through ministry”, she said. Lady Yas would go on to major in Dance for undergrad and eventually get a Masters in Arts Management.
As Lady Yas diligently works towards building a bridge between people through the ministry, they both have an understanding that things take pa- tience. On the timing of his in- stallation being three years later--when asked why now-- Pastor Byron eagerly replied, “It’s time. I’m glad there was enough time for God to draw the people here. The pictures of my installation will include my Daughters. That would not have happened three years ago. It is a celebration of the wondrous works of God. It is a family thing. This Sunday (April 17. 2016) is a culmination of everything that I’ve been through, “ explained Pastor Byron.
“Numbers can be incredibly misleading. The value to me in the ministry is tied to the holistic quality of life of the people which leads to empowerment. I strategically pray and then look for how God is going to reveal.
You pray for the gifts to be there and then you have to provide cultivation and leader- ship,” he said. If the outstanding track record of service and duty merely three years into his and Lady Yas’s ministry at Berean Raleigh is any indication, the future harvest of members with healing hearts and a commitment to transforming their surrounding community.