NC pastor dies after a ‘hard battle’ with COVID, served rural churches for decades

Joe Marusak
·2 min read

Gary Jennings began preaching when he was 14 years old, his family said.

For the rest of his 73 years, he never stopped ministering to others in rural communities of the North Carolina Foothills northwest of Charlotte, they said.

Even when he “retired” as pastor of East Taylorsville Baptist Church in Alexander County after 30 years, Jennings served a dozen local churches as interim pastor. He most recently ministered at Rocky Hill Baptist, north of Statesville in northern Iredell County.

On Sunday, Rocky Hill Baptist Associate Pastor Nik Baughn delivered the news on Facebook: “With a heavy heart,” Baughn said in a video address, in which he was announcing that their beloved “Pastor Gary” had died.

Jennings died after a “hard battle” with COVID-19, his family said in his obituary.

“It is the blessed hope that we have this morning that even in the pain, even in the grieving over Pastor Gary, that he is right now in the presence of Jesus, talking with him, being in the presence of God,” Baughn said.

Jennings, born in the mountains of northeastern Tennessee, pastored his first church at age 20, in Kingsport, Tennessee.

After five years, he moved to Alexander County to pastor at East Taylorsville Baptist.

He also served on the Taylorsville Fire Department for 29 years, retiring as assistant chief. He was president of Alexander Funeral Service for 26 years and served on the board of Taylorsville Savings Bank.

In 1992, Jennings was named Alexander County Citizen of the Year, and in 2002, chaplain of Alexander County.

Online remembrances poured in this week on the funeral home’s website, with many recounting how great a difference Jennings made in their lives.

“God blessed me with such a wonderful life-long friend,” a man wrote. “Gary gave our daily devotions during grade and high school. His witness then was the same throughout his life.”

“He was Alexander County’s version of Billy Graham, in my opinion!” one woman posted.

“Heaven has gained a great man of God,” another woman said.

Jennings is survived by his wife of 54 years, Linda Sturgill Jennings, their two daughters, five grandchildren and a great grandson.

His funeral was scheduled for Thursday afternoon at East Taylorsville Baptist Church, and his family asked everyone to strictly adhere to COVID-19 safety protocols.

Alexander and 83 other N.C. counties are in COVID-19 Code Red, a classification by state health officials that “critical community spread” of the virus continues.

A private graveside service will be at a later date in Taylorsville City Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, Jennings’ family asks that memorials be made to the charity of the donor’s choice and hang a bird feeder in your yard or at a nursing home.