2 Tenn. church members die of COVID-19: 'Horrendous virus attacked'

Westmore Church on God in Cleveland, Tenn.
Westmore Church on God in Cleveland, Tenn. | Facebook/Westmore Church of God

A Tennessee church that shuttered last month after suffering an outbreak of COVID-19 announced the loss of two senior members to the virus but said they are also experiencing miracles in the pandemic too.

“We have lost two wonderful vulnerable seniors who were with us on Father’s Day and that’s tough. This horrendous virus attacked and we lost Bro. Frank Cunningham as well as Dr. Jimmy Bilbo,” Kelvin Page, pastor of Westmore Church of God in Cleveland, Tennessee, said in a video announcement on Facebook last weekend.

“Both of these men were special men who are greatly appreciated by the Westmore family. And we have learned from this horrendous virus that we must do all that we can do to protect our vulnerable. We have to. Even when we think that we were doing our due diligence and doing our best, we thought that, it still slipped in. And so we've got to do an even better job than what we thought we were doing."

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Cunningham, who died on July 9, was 73, and Bilbo, who passed a day later on July 10, was 89. Both men were remembered as exemplary Christians.

“Frank was a faithful member of Westmore Church of God. He loved singing in the choir and was involved with the senior center as a volunteer in the community. He was a beloved son, brother, father, uncle and friend,” Cunningham’s obituary says.

“Dr. Bilbo always struck me as the perfect Christian gentleman. He was always so kind and gracious. Dr. Bilbo dedicated his life to teaching and mentoring his beloved students at Lee University. His legacy lives on through their vocations and ministries. He will be missed,” wrote Bill and Lenae Simmons in a statement on Bilbo’s passing.

Westmore had been holding in-person services as well as a regional worship service for the Tennessee Church of God state office on June 22, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reported. Over the next four days, the church began confirming COVID-19 cases up to a dozen until the pastor stopped counting infections and shuttered the church on June 26.

In an interview with News Channel 9, Pastor Page, who was also infected with COVID-19, revealed that his church was hit hard by the virus after exposure to the virus through their choir.

"And again it slipped in on us through the choir. And once it hit there, it really hit," he said. He noted that they had been doing temperature checks every week.

He said that even though the church had been taking precautions such as social distancing they should have taken masks more seriously.

On Sunday, during his online sermon, Page expressed how he has been tortured in recent days on how to celebrate good news coming out of his church in light of the pain that has resulted from the pandemic in his church.

“It just feels like I might not know how to do that,” he said, noting that the Bible encourages the church to suffer together to heal.

“Westmore hurts. We have hurt over the last several weeks. This has been I believe the fourth week that we’ve been online. We’ve got another week or two or three to go. We don’t know, we’re kinda figuring all of this out but we’ve hurt together,” he said.

“We really hurt. We hurt when we heard about two deaths among ourselves that were associated with being in church with us on Father’s Day,” he said recalling the names of Cunningham and Bilbo.

“We hurt when scores of people got sick. It wasn’t pleasant. It wasn’t just my home. It was numerous homes where people got sick because of this horrendous virus. And we hurt, we hurt, we hurt. It’s a painful thing to hurt. Nobody likes to hurt …. especially after we were celebrating all that God was doing,” he said.

He noted, however, that it hasn’t been all gloom for his congregation amid the pandemic.

“If you’ve sit where I’ve sit over these last two weeks, I’ve heard of miracles. I’ve heard our Mayor Kevin Brooks, talked to me on the phone the other day and I’ve heard also through others that he was saying while he was singing in the hospital, he was trying to sing some praise. And he was there in the hospital dealing with his lungs and somehow, as he was singing about the breath of the Lord … he claims that instantly he felt the Holy Spirit come upon him and breath filled up his lungs. I know that God works that way.”

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