Bernard C. Yates, longtime leader of the Zion Hope Primitive Baptist Church in Pensacola, Florida, who was also a two-term national president for the Primitive Baptist Convention USA, has died, his family announced. He was 64.
In a statement from his family posted to the church’s Facebook page, Yate’s family confirmed that he died on Saturday.
“God has spoken. Elder Dr. Bernard Cecil Yates made his transition to be with the Lord on October 24, 2020. We honor and celebrate the life of our husband, father, grandfather, pastor and friend. Please allow our immediate family time to be with one another,” the family said in their statement that also cited Jude 24-25.
Persons close to the family told the Pensacola News Journal that Yates died at home from cardiac arrest.
While his immediately family continues to grieve privately, the pastor’s nephew, Marcus Yates, noted in a statement on Facebook that his uncle lived an exemplary life.
“I’ve been looking for sage words, but, this time, they don’t want to come. Our hearts are broken. But we know a Savior who mends broken hearts. Please don’t take your family for granted, friends. Celebrating the life and legacy of my Uncle, Rev. Dr. Bernard C. Yates. Grateful for the life he lived and the example he shared. May his work, his sacrifice and the investments made in the lives of so many continue to speak for him,” he wrote.
In addition to his religious work nationwide, Yates, who sat on the board of Ascension Sacred Heart Hospital at the time of his death, was also well-known for his work outside the church, the Pensacola News Journal said.
“I recommended him and wanted him on the Scared Heart board to help answer the question, ‘How do we start reducing the social determinants within health care?’ prominent businessman Quint Studer told the publication.
“Pastor Yates was a problem solver. He did so much, like food drives, in the community and did so much to improve people’s educations. It wasn’t just about Sundays,” Studer said. “It was about — seven days a week — being there for people in the community.”
Bynium Jefferson, chairman of the Deacon Ministry at Zion Hope Primitive Baptist Church, told the Journal that Yates “was a visionary for Pensacola,” whose 35-years at the helm of Zion Hope Primitive Baptist Church leadership helped expand the membership of the conservative congregation to 1,600 today from 300 members in 1985.
“He was a quiet person, but when we gave him the microphone and he stood by the pulpit, he became a baller-flyer (sic),” Jefferson said. “He was really a great orator. He made this church.”
Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan, who once deputized Yates in front of his congregants during service one Sunday, said his death is a “significant loss” to the community.
“I had the honor of appointing Pastor Yates as an honorary deputy at the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office years ago. I found him to be more than just a pastor, but one of those ‘go to’ leaders in the community,” Morgan said. “I retained full faith and confidence that any issue that would arise needing law enforcement intervention or explanation of our actions would be addressed by Pastor Yates. He knew I was never more than a phone call away. Our community has suffered another significant loss with his passing.”
Yates will lie in repose at the Hope Center at Zion Primitive Baptist Church on Oct. 30. His memorial service will take place on Oct. 31 at the church.