JACKSONVILLE–They were pastors, pastors’ wives, worship leaders and committed ministers. Since COVID-19 began its deadly rampage through the state of Florida, the nation and world, Florida Baptists, too, have lost faithful servants to the disease. Churches have mourned the lives dimmed by the pandemic, even while celebrating the promise of faith in Christ Jesus to see them again in heaven.
This list of those we’ve lost is not complete, but an attempt to honor those whose lives were cut too short. If you have other names of pastors and staff to share, please send an email to Barbara Denman, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Compiled by Florida Baptist Convention staff.
Tom Bary, pastor, Neptune Baptist Church, Neptune Beach
Tom Bary had a passion for preaching, a genuine love for people, and a desire to love and serve the Jacksonville Beaches community. He was a servant leader, a true friend and a selfless pastor who poured his life into ministry, impacting countless lives.
In March 2020, as COVID-19 was beginning to take a toll on the economy, Pastor Bary, lead pastor of Neptune Baptist Church in Neptune Beach, inspired the church to launch its FoodShare ministry, partnering with another Beaches area nonprofit, B.E.A.M., to provide a monthly drive-through food distribution program.
Then COVID-19 caught up with him. Bary died Dec. 15, 2020, following a month-long battle with the disease. He was 64 years “young.” He left behind his wife Karen, four grown children and a grandson.
Because of his long tenure in Neptune Beach, his ministry touched generations of families–from adults who had been in his youth ministry, to their children and grandchildren as he officiated weddings, celebrated baptisms and walked them through other life events. Over the years he led many projects that benefitted the needs of others while bringing people together through the love of Christ such as the King of the Hill Surf Fest, one of the region’s largest annual Pro/Am Surf Contests benefitting the nonprofit homeless ministry, Mission House.
Bary had a combined 36 years of service on staff at Neptune Baptist Church. He originally joined the staff as youth minister and served 12 years in that role, and then served as singles minister in Tennessee before returning to Neptune Baptist as lead pastor in 1996. He is deeply missed by his many friends, his Neptune Baptist Church family, and the Jacksonville Beaches community.
Tom Bary leaves behind a great legacy and example of a man who truly loved Jesus and loved people.
By Alan Walker, minister of worship and music, Neptune Baptist Church
Moises Abella Diaz, lead pastor, Iglesia Bautista Rescate, Hialeah
Moises Abella Diaz was known by his child-like energy, sweet and caring disposition and contagious enthusiasm. He pastored for many years in Cuba before coming to the United States at the end of the 90s and planting Iglesia Bautista Rescate in Hialeah to reach Cuban immigrants by telling them that Jesus Christ can rescue their souls.
He offered emotional support as well as financial assistance to church families in their times of hardship. Those who had a close relationship with him remember how often he prayed with them through uncertain times. In his conversations, he always made it clear how great the love of God was and how it reached him, an imperfect man. With a genuinely humble heart he worked hard to be more like Jesus every day.
Diaz died on April 6, 2020, after he and his son contracted COVID-19. He is survived by two sons and Rodolfo and Moises, and four grandchildren; Rodolfo, Stephanie, Sabrina and Catherine, and wife in Cuba, Edilia Romero.
“I will always remember his unchanging greeting of ‘hola muchachita, como estas? Dios te bendiga,’ (hi little girl, how are you? God bless you.), no matter the fact that I am more than 50 years old,” said Kenia Gregorich, a family friend who knew Moises since she was a little girl in Cuba.
“I can never forget the emotional, spiritual and material support my family and I received from Moises during a hard time in our lives here in the U.S,” she said. “Each of his prayers interceding for us were powerful and touched God’s heart; he showed us what God’s love looks like in action.”
He was 84.
Dan Fife, small group pastor, Fuel Church Lakeland
Dan Fife spent his life serving, loving and being a father figure to many men and couples at Fuel Church in Lakeland. He devoted his life to discipling others through small groups and one-on-one mentoring.
He lost his life Dec. 13, 2020, a little over two weeks after testing positive for COVID-19.
After retiring as a business owner in 2019, Fife was ordained to the gospel ministry and began serving as the small groups pastor at Fuel Church. He and his wife Jan oversaw development and discipleship, helping others grow in their relationship with the Lord and their families through the church’s small group model.
Known for his wisdom, compassion and patience, Fife brought a calming voice to the pastoral team when needed, reminding everyone that change best happens slowly and deliberately so that the no one is left behind.
He was a great friend, loving husband, father and grandfather. One of the final memories he left was when he was in the hospital fighting his battle with COVID. Every year on his wedding anniversary he would get his wife a special coffee mug and card. From his hospital bed, he called his daughter to tell her which coffee mug he wanted to give his wife for their anniversary. His daughter purchased it for her mother to receive on their anniversary—a lasting remembrance of a lifetime of love.
What an amazing legacy he has left. He will be missed, but we continue with joy knowing that he is with his Lord and Savior.
By Mike Harrell, Lead Pastor, Fuel Church
Yvette Renee Evans Hall, pastor’s wife, New St. Matthew’s Missionary Baptist Church, Tampa
Coworkers said she was the epitome of class–smart, thoughtful, and kind. She handled every situation with poise and grace.
“The First Lady” of New St. Matthew’s Missionary Baptist Church in Tampa, died Aug. 3, 2020, from COVID-19, leaving behind her husband of 27 years, Pastor Alec Hall, and their daughter, Maiyah.
Whenever Hall spoke of her precious child, recalled a friend, she always had a special twinkle in her eyes.
A native of New York, she met her husband while she was a student at the University of Florida in Gainesville. After they were married, she earned a degree in accounting at the University of South Florida and later a master’s degree in accounting. She was employed at MetLife Insurance Company and later at Bright House Financial for many years as a supervisor in the accounting department.
Church members said their hearts were heavy after her death. She was “a beautiful flower in God’s garden, who will always be loved and missed.”
“A beautiful woman whose love for God was exemplified in her commitment to family, church and friends. First Lady Hall was a light, and her smile was contagious.”
She will be dearly missed, but those that knew her agree, God has certainly gained a beautiful angel.
Josias Jocelyn, pastor, Sanctification Haitian Baptist Church, St. Petersburg
As the pastor of Sanctification Haitian Baptist Church in St. Petersburg, Josias Jocelyn would often go without to meet the needs of others.
He raised funds for youngsters to attend camp, provided relief to Bahamians after Hurricane Dorian shredded the islands, and rebuilt his home church in Haiti when Hurricane Matthew decimated the nation.
In 1973 Jocelyn travelled from his Haitian homeland to America in search of opportunity. In New York he learned English, tutored students in math and became a businessman. Moving to Florida, he was teaching school when he felt the Lord calling him to become a minister. That calling eventually led him to the Sanctification Church.
He was a man of service–service to God and service to community.
When COVID-19 claimed his life on July 20, 2020, Jocelyn, age 79, had fought the good fight. He would long be remembered for the many good deeds that will continue beyond his death.
He is survived his wife Kettly, six children and 15 grandchildren.
At the time of his death, many recalled the passage found in James 1:27: “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.”
Words that clearly personified his life.
Marcel Metayer, pastor, Renaissance Evangelical Baptist Tabernacle
Marcel Metayer was well-respected among the Haitian Baptist community in South Florida. A faithful preacher of the word and focused on serving the community, Marcel kept the church doors open through the pandemic as a place of spiritual rest for the Haitian community in Ft. Lauderdale.
Among the early Haitian Baptist preachers in South Florida, Marcel led the church from rented spaces to its own space early in the life of the church. A firm but God-loving man, he was able to find a middle ground even with those he disagreed with.
“He sat across from me at the table in a local restaurant and God does what He so often does: we went from people connected by an organization to brothers in the family of a heavenly Father,” recalled Don Minshew, director of missions at Gulfstream Baptist Association.
“He was a visionary, had a heart for evangelism, and was very disciplined,” said John Voltaire, Haitian Church catalyst for the Florida Baptist Convention.
Pastor Marcel contracted COVID-19 and passed away on July 28 at Ft. Lauderdale’s Florida Medical Center. He was 63. He left behind his wife, Jeannette Metayer, and their 19-year-old son, Max Metayer.
“I will miss the warmth of fellowship with my brother” said Minshew, “I will miss the mysterious twinkle in his eye when he joked with me about something. I do not grieve like those who have no hope, but remember that my brother is alive in the presence of Christ and that he is due to return when our Lord does.”
Ronnie McKenzie, retired long-time pastor, Kernan Boulevard Baptist Church, Jacksonville
Ronnie McKenzie was a beloved pastor, a loving husband and father, and a true friend. He had a magnetic personality that drew people to him. He had the uncanny ability of being able to meet people at their point of need, yet loved to joke and have fun with those around him.
Everyone has a story in their heart about who McKenzie was and what he meant to their lives.
Foremost he was a faithful preacher of the gospel who led hundreds to faith in Jesus Christ across the decades.
In 1975 “Brother Ronnie” was called as pastor at Southside Estates Baptist Church in Jacksonville. During his ministry, the church outgrew its location. In the 1990s, under his visionary leadership, the church bought 35 acres of land in an undeveloped area of Kernan Boulevard. The church built a sanctuary, family life center, outside pavilion and ball fields, drawing believers across the burgeoning region to the thriving congregation. The church, renamed Kernan Boulevard Baptist Church, celebrated the first service at the new location on Aug. 1, 1999. McKenzie served as pastor of the church for 34 years. He retired in 2009 to take care of his beloved wife, Sylvia, who was ill and has since passed.
McKenzie died from complications caused by COVID-19 on Jan. 8, 2021, in Vidalia, Ga., at age 77. He was survived by his second wife, three daughters and grandchildren.
Many who were raised under his ministry and whose lives he touched mourn his death, knowing his favorite passage, Philippians 1:21-22, has been realized for eternity, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell.”
As one of his church members recalled, “He always closed every funeral he preached: ‘If you know the Lord, this isn’t goodbye, it’s just goodnight and I’ll see you in the morning!’”
“So, goodnight Preacher…we’ll see you in the morning!”
Hugh Patterson, worship pastor, Jacksonville Heights Baptist Church
Hugh Patterson was a gifted musician with a booming voice, an infectious smile and a gentle spirit. Love for God, his family and his ministry to the church was always a priority in his life. Through his singing and music, he made an investment in the lives of Florida Baptists and his community.
Patterson died Jan. 1, 2021, in Jacksonville after a three-week battle with COVID-19. He was 57 years old.
The city of Jacksonville grieved over his death as he was loved by many in the churches where he spent his life, including Jacksonville Heights where he had served as worship pastor for the past six years. His leadership in the city’s Don Thompson Chorale and other musical groups was an opportunity for the musician to share his passions– his love for the Lord and his love for music. He worked hard to build his life and career around these things that brought him tremendous joy.
Those who knew the avid Clemson University fan will miss his big bear hugs and kind words.
“It was heartbreaking,” said senior pastor Donnie Elkins. “It affected me harder than the death of family members in the past. He was that close of a friend and co-minister in Christ,” Elkins said. “He is one of the finest musicians I have ever known. He’s a wonderful Christian. He served the Lord.”
His resting place will be in Clemson, S.C., where his beloved Clemson Tigers play. Friends and family celebrated his homecoming, knowing he is leading the heavenly angels in song and praise.
Tony Salmeron, pastor, Iglesia Bautista Central, Ocala
The Ocala pastor and mental health counselor died July 2, 2020, from complications of COVID-19. He was 60.
A native of El Salvador, he and his wife, Mercedes, came to Florida in 1984 with the mission of establishing Hispanic churches.
They eventually settled in Ocala. For more than a decade, he served as pastor of the Iglesia Bautista Central at Central Baptist Church. He also operated Christian Counseling Associates, with a focus on marital counseling.
He helped a lot of marriages that were in trouble. “I have received a lot of messages (since his passing) from people that I don’t even know,” said his wife. “As a mental health counselor, you don’t share that information, even with your wife. But now I am hearing from people telling me how he helped them rebuild their family, and they are really thankful.”
Rebeca Salmeron-Kelly, one of his three daughters, said her father was one of the sweetest people she’s ever known.
“He was really funny and a very positive person,” she said. “He always saw the good in people and their potential.”
Salmeron started having difficulty breathing, but his other symptoms were mild. A test confirmed he had COVID-19. An asthma sufferer, he went into the hospital for treatment of the breathing issue. But an undiagnosed heart condition caused a heart attack, and his condition deteriorated.
“Something that he always emphasized was not to be afraid of death,” said daughter Amanda Stone. “In looking at his life, that is something we could see he lived by. What he believed was so real that he was not afraid, even in those last moments.”
Reprinted by permission, Ocala Star Banner
Larry Wade, long-time pastor, Panama City
Standing in front of the Garden of Gethsemane, Larry Wade opened his Bible and preached from the gospel passage where Jesus Christ in quiet desperation prayed before His death on the cross. For the hundreds who accompanied Wade to Israel over the years, in scenes like this, the Bible came alive as never before with a new freshness and renewed faith. He had traveled to the Holy Land nearly 100 times, always taking others so that they, too, could be illuminated and inspired with the gospel.
Wade was larger than life; he feared nothing and would give you any possession he had, said his longtime friend, Roger Krans, pastor of West Bay Baptist Church in Panama City. When he felt called to preach, his mentor Larry Wade bought him shirts, gave him suits and shoes. “He changed my life,” said Krans. He had done similarly for others.
The mission-minded pastor loved people and never forgot a name—or a graduation when he sent a Bible to the graduate to treasure forever.
Prior to his retirement Wade served churches in the region around Panama City —Cove Baptist Church, Fountain Baptist Church, Brannonville Baptist Church and the former Westview Baptist Church (now Family of God’s west campus). He also served as president of Gulf Coast Bible College Seminary.
A Vietnam War veteran, the young Wade survived a submarine accident, having pulled three soldiers out from the wreckage to save their lives. He was a war hero to many.
On Dec. 14, 2020, he lost his battle with COVID-19, dying from complications of this deadly disease. He was 72. He left behind his wife of 54 years, Angie, two daughters and a son. He was buried at Pensacola’s Barrancas National Cemetery—a hero in life and death.
Those who remember Larry Wade picture the faithful pastor and teacher now sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to the same stories of his Savior he once shared.
Jerome Watts, minister of worship, Unity Baptist Church, Jacksonville
Jerome Watts could sit at the piano and play any song by ear, catching every nuance of the melody—and creating some of his own. Although he was especially fond of tunes from the 70s and 80s, he was passionate about the songs of praise and worship he led at Jacksonville’s Unity Baptist Church, located on the city’s northside. His talent went beyond the piano; his beautiful voice offered a wide range to the praise team, according to fellow team member Felicia Botley.
The bivocational minister served as a janitor at Jacksonville’s TIAA Bank Field. He was humble, kind, soft- spoken and fun-hearted with fellow church members. “He just loved God,” said Pastor Derrick Young. “Everything he did gave glory to Him.”
The last time Felicia Botley spoke to Watts on Sunday, March 16, 2020, she could tell he was seriously ill and pleaded with him to seek medical attention. When she called him the next day, a family member answered the phone and shared that her friend had died that day at Jacksonville’s UF Health Shands Hospital.
The swiftness of his death from COVID-19 on March 17, 2020, numbed the Unity family. So early in the pandemic, much about the disease and its spread were unknown. “It was such a hard thing to process,” said Felicia Botley. “It didn’t seem real; there was no service.” Their grief was prolonged.
At Christmas, the Unity family held its annual tree lighting—this year illuminating a live tree on church grounds. Pastor Young and his wife hung an ornament in remembrance of their partner in ministry and friend.
Jerome Watts gave joy to the Unity congregation through his talent, faith and friendship. As Felicia Botley put it, “He was everybody’s person.”