(RNS) — A pastor of a Southern California megachurch died Monday (Nov. 30), days after the church announced he had been diagnosed with COVID-19.
Pastor Bob Bryant died earlier in the day Monday, according to a statement by Water of Life Community Church in San Bernardino County, which had been part of a network of churches that urged Gov. Gavin Newsom to bump houses of worship to an earlier stage of the state’s reopening plan.
“Today Pastor Bob is where he has always loved to be, in the presence of Jesus. He loved God and he loved people with great passion. We celebrate his life and how he lived and influenced us to love like Jesus loved!” said Dan Carroll, senior pastor for Water of Life Community Church, in the Facebook statement.
Bryant, 58, had been with the church for 18 years and started as one of its youth pastors, according to the Daily Bulletin.
“He was an incredible man. He will be hugely missed by all of us. He leaves a hole no one else will be able to fill,” Susan DePaola, executive assistant to the senior pastor, told the Daily Bulletin.
DePaola told the local newspaper the church will continue to meet in person while socially distanced and that Bryant was on vacation when he became ill.
Water of Life Community Church, like other California churches, closed during lockdown, but in May Carroll and other pastors supported a “Declaration of Essentiality for Churches,” which called for churches to be seen as essential organizations by the state.
They sought to reopen on Pentecost weekend, with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines in place, and began having socially distanced services at the end of May. The church, according to the Daily Bulletin, switched to outdoor services to follow state guidelines and at the end of October reopened for socially distanced indoor services. The church continues to post services online.
Bryant’s wife, Lori Snider Bryant, said on Facebook that her husband did everything he could to survive.
“He fought to the very end and so did his doctors and nurses. The love and support, prayer and generosity around us continues to just astonished me,” she said.
“Please continue to pray like Bob prays and believe that God is turning this around. It is definitely not the way that we hoped it would be but he is doing some thing, God is doing something right now.”
A memorial service will be held Monday at the church and streamed live online.