On November 30, megachurch pastor Bob Bryant died from COVID-19 complications days after contracting the virus.
Bryant, pastor of the multisite, nondenominational Water of Life Community Church in Fontana, Calif., was rushed into the COVID intensive care unit at a local hospital but his health worsened soon after being admitted.
“He was only in the hospital for a matter of hours and they put him on a respirator. And then a few hours after that, he had a heart attack,” Bryant’s wife, Lori, said.
Bryan began exhibiting symptoms while he and his family were on vacation, and his wife and one of their children also tested positive but had no symptoms. Lori said that her husband’s symptoms quickly advanced to bilateral aggressive COVID pneumonia and he had kidney failures before he passed.
Bryant’s death is a huge blow to Water of Life’s church leadership and is yet another heartbreaking development in a year full of disappointment and sadness. Naturally, anyone who has read about these events will likely have their own interpretation of how they came to pass.
However, there are several ways that people who observe these events from afar should not react to Bob Bryant’s passing.
1. Do not use Bryant’s death as an example of how church gatherings are dangerous.
Throughout the pandemic, the right to religious freedom has been so heavily under attack by certain governors (including California’s Gavin Newsom) that it took a Supreme Court ruling to protect churches’ First Amendment right to gather for worship. Churches had previously been shut down or heavily restricted to prevent a potential spread of COVID-19.
Water of Life had been holding outdoor services until Oct. 31, when it began having in-person services with both social distancing and facemasks required. The church also offered outdoor services using a large screen and online services for anyone who didn’t feel comfortable worshiping inside. Bryant’s wife has indicated that her husband did have underlying health issues and had always taken every recommended precaution to protect himself and others.
Despite their best efforts, Bryant still contracted the coronavirus and died.
Now that a pastor of a church has died from COVID, many will assume that Bryant’s death is a direct result of holding in-person church. However, we simply do not know if this is the case and it would be inappropriate to assume so. Bryant could have been exposed in any number of daily activities outside of his occupation, so we cannot pinpoint the church’s in-person meetings as the reason he passed.
2. Do not assume that meeting in large gatherings means someone will die.
One of the widely accepted guidelines for safety from contracting COVID-19 is that one should avoid large gatherings to limit your contact with people who might be sick. According to this logic, a service at a megachurch would be something one would want to avoid.
Nevertheless, large gatherings are not as unsafe as they seem. Newsom and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot have both been in close proximity with large numbers of people (Newsom at a birthday party inside of a restaurant and Lightfoot at a protest), and thousands of people gathered for Trump rallies in the month before the presidential election. None of these gatherings led to anyone’s deaths.
Thus, gathering in large crowds does not automatically mean someone will die. While it might be easier to contract the virus, that is a risk the public must take when trying to conduct their lives as normally as possible, just like Water of Life did when they decided to have in-person services again.
3. Do not politicize his death to support a specific narrative.
In today’s politically charged climate, most events are used to bolster the credibility of one agenda or another. While it may be tempting to do this with Bryant’s death, we must refrain and instead show compassion.
A church has just lost a pastor, a wife has just lost her husband, and children have just lost their father. This should be enough to move the heart to sadness and compassion and to put aside all political biases. The Bryant family and Water of Life community need prayer and support, not accusations and judgment.
Bryant’s death is a tragedy, but it is not completely without hope. A faithful servant of the Lord has gone home to receive his reward, and in that the body of Christ can find joy. We should keep that as our focus and refrain from inappropriate reactions to his passing.