TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - A local congregation is coming together in spirit to mourn the death of a man who left his mark.
Recently, North Swan Baptist Church lost its senior pastor to the Coronavirus.
“If you are going to walk through the valley of the virus, you better walk in the presence of the Shepherd,” said Senior Pastor Gary Marquez during an online church service in May.
That sermon has become more relevant than Senior Pastor Marquez could have known at the time.
For nearly 33 years, he offered encouragement and hope through faith.
“This church was small and struggling when he started,” said David Johnson, the Executive Director of the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention. “While the footprint of the church has not changed dramatically over those years, the number of people has.”
“Gary had a tremendous impact in this church and across Tucson,” said John Guillott, the Director of Evangelism for the Catalina Baptist Association. “He touched so many people’s lives.”
Signs and flowers now decorate the front steps of North Swan Baptist Church, as the community shows support during a time of physical separation.
“I’ve been told it’s a hole that will never be filled, but sorrow will turn into some wonderful memories,” said Andrew Marquez, the Associate Pastor at North Swan Baptist Church.
Gary Marquez, a Navy veteran, was married for more than 40 years. He and his wife raised four children, including Andrew Marquez.
“I will miss him very much,” said Associate Pastor Marquez.
Church leaders say North Swan Baptist reopened for in-person service on Mother’s Day. However, it was closed again by Father’s Day.
“When the Governor came out and really asked to restrict meetings below 50, we thought we ought to close back down out of respect for that order … realizing [Governor Doug Ducey] said churches weren’t bound by that order,” said Associate Pastor Marquez.
Even with the church going back to virtual worship, Senior Pastor Marquez somehow contracted COVID-19. He died on July 6th.
“I was able to have a conversation with him just before they put him on a ventilator. He told me he loved me, he told me he loved my mom. My sister was able to talk to him, my mom was able to talk to him. It was going in a positive direction for two or three days, and then it just took a turn,” said Associate Pastor Marquez. “He had some other health issues, but nothing that was life-threatening. He was only 66, so, it was a shock to all of us to lose him … it wasn’t a shock to God.”
Senior Pastor Marquez’ bible and glasses still sit on the pulpit where he left them. However, Associate Pastor Marquez says his father’s legacy is not in that building.
“His legacy is in his parishioners and it’s in his family,” he said.
Associate Pastor Marquez told KOLD News 13 he is comforted by the thought of his father being reunited with his creator.
“Surly goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord … forever,” said Senior Pastor Marquez during the May 3rd service.
North Swan Baptist Church will remain closed until the current Executive Order expires.
Church members have not yet decided who will lead worship in place of Senior Pastor Marquez.