TAYLORSVILLE, N.C. — A community in Alexander County is in mourning after a beloved pastor died from COVID-19.
Rev. Gary Jennings was the pastor at East Taylorsville Baptist for 30 years, and he began that journey at 14 years old, preaching at many other houses of worship along the way.
“His influence on my life and this church’s life and the life of this county -- you just can’t measure it,” said Pastor Jamie Steele.
Channel 9 reporter Dave Faherty was told that many people considered Jennings, who was once named the county’s Citizen of the Year, the pastor of Alexander County.
Outside of East Taylorsville Baptist Church on Tuesday, the Taylorsville Fire Department raised a large American flag with their ladder truck in honor of Jennings.
Jennings volunteered with the local fire department for more than three decades, and he rose to the rank of assistant chief.
“Day and night, back in his heyday, anytime the whistle blew he was there,” said fellow firefighter Charlie Marshal.
Because of the pandemic and the number of people he preached to over the years, Jennings will lie in state for the next two days to keep a large crowd from showing up at one time to pay their respects.
Friends told Channel 9 he had gotten COVID-19 before Christmas, and over the past month, he fought hard to beat the effects of the virus and was hospitalized twice.
But it was his preaching, his outreach and his impact on the community that people in Alexander County were remembering Tuesday.
“He was humble and he preached the Bible and he brought a lot of souls to the Lord,” friend Dianne Mecimore said.
Jennings was also the president of the Alexander Funeral Service and on the board of directors at a local bank.
“He was very helpful with his knowledge of the people of Alexander County and what Alexander County needed,” said Tim Keever with Taylorsville Savings Bank.
“He was someone you saw everywhere you went,” neighbor Mabel Jones said. “Hospitals, funeral homes -- just someone’s home maybe. But he was always one to care for others.”
Jennings’ body will lie in state through Wednesday before his funeral on Thursday, where attendance will be limited because of COVID-19.
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