Prominent Georgia pastor dies from COVID-19 at 44; community mourns

Rev. Bryan Wardell Raines
Rev. Bryant Wardell Raines |

Shockwaves of grief are still rippling through the black Baptist community in Georgia after Rev. Bryant Wardell Raines, a prominent local activist and leader of the New Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church in Macon, died last Wednesday from COVID-19 complications.

In his announcement of Raines’ death, Rev. Anthony Q. Corbett Sr., president of the General Missionary Baptist Convention of Georgia, an affiliate of the National Baptist Convention, said the late pastor had recently become the president of the convention’s sixth district.

“Your prayers and well wishes are requested for his wife, Sister Ilashia Raines along with their family, and the congregation of New Pilgrim Baptist Church,” Corbett said.

Early last month, the late pastor’s brother revealed that Raines was trying to recover from COVID-19.

“FB Family, as many families and lives have been affected by COVID-19, so too have ours. We are grateful for the ongoing outpour of support, unselfish expressions of love and genuine concern all of you have shown,” Curtis Raines Jr. wrote on Feb. 12. “My family and I ask for your continued prayers for Bryant for the total restoration of his strength and health. We know that there is incredible power in prayer and that God is a healer.”

Raines’ church did not immediately respond to calls for comment on his passing Monday. However, prominent local pastors like E. Dewey Smith Jr., senior pastor of The House of Hope Atlanta in Decatur, openly shared their grief as news of his death spread.

“My heart is incredibly heavy!! I watched him grow up,” Smith declared on Facebook. “I saw him playing baseball when he was a kid! He was a mentee of mine! His late father, Pastor Curtis Raines, Sr., was my friend! His brother (Curtis Jr) & I went to school together & played baseball together! He was only 44 years old.... he was in good physical shape... I HATE COVID19!!!!!!” 

Alexander Montel Gibson, the executive pastor of Lundy Chapel Baptist Church in Macon, also recalled the special relationship he had with both Raines and his father, Curtis Raines Sr., who died in 2015.

“For most of my life, Curtis Raines Sr was a household name. When he left us to be with the Lord it left a huge dent in our family. We immediately received the same love, humor, and respect from his wife and his children, especially his successor: the Rev. Bryant Wardell Raines,” Gibson told his followers on Facebook.

“Me and Pastor B. Raines always kept a text thread of laughs, encouragement, and love and to know that he will never text me or call me to joke about something funny we see in a service or him just checking on the Gibson/Glover/Harden family, hurts me deeply.”

“We love you and we will forever cherish your servant’s heart and love for your community and the Kingdom of God,” Gibson continued. 

Raines was one of three Georgia pastors who teamed up in early 2020 to launch the "Heal the Hood" initiative against street violence.

"The street violence is something that has plagued our area, and not just one area in particular as far as east, west and now north Macon, so it's a problem that we all have to face,” Raines said in an interview with First Coast News.

Macon-Bibb County Commissioner Seth Clark said Raines worked hard to make Macon a better place.

“Peace be with Reverend Raines’s family, friends, and congregation. Macon is a better place because he loved and fought for it as hard as he did. Bless him and may he rest in power,” Clark wrote on Facebook.

Deacon Andy Stroud told 41NBC that Raines had a big personality and wanted to serve the public any chance he got. Stroud called Raines a visionary who was also planning to open a youth center and nursing home. 

“His love for humankind was just built-in. He got a lot of the visions from his father and his father left some big footprints. He just widened the footprints, that’s all he did,” Stroud said. “His personality was so bold that it didn’t matter who you were. You were always his friend. He was always your friend.”

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