Andrew Pray began his work in the church when he was 8 years old, following around his father, who was the worship pastor at First Baptist Church of Springdale, Ark.
“He grew up going with me to music rehearsals and sound checks,” said his father, Buster Pray. “By high school, he was leading the music worship for the students’ service.”
Pray kept right on following in his father’s footsteps, serving most recently as the worship pastor presiding over the music at West Ridge Church in Dallas.
On Thursday, a day reserved for family get-togethers and celebration, the Pray family was mourning the loss of Andrew, who was killed Wednesday when he was struck by a charter bus while cycling along U.S. 41 in Bartow County.
Pray, who would have celebrated his 31st birthday Monday, was cycling near Red Top Mountain when he was struck around 12:30 p.m., according to Battalion Chief Sandy Turner with the Bartow County Fire Department.
Pray was wearing a helmet, but he was critically injured. The Dallas resident was transported by ambulance to WellStar Kennestone Hospital in Marietta, but did not survive.
Pray, a married father of three, led the West Ridge band and often sang alongside his wife, Courtney.
“I sensed that he loved people,” said his father, gathered with friends and family at the Pray home Thursday afternoon. “He could do anything he wanted to do, but God called him to the ministry.”
Courtney set the tone for the mood in the home, he said: “that we will walk through this as a family” despite “intense grief, beyond comprehension.” They know, the father said, that Andrew is now with God and that his loved ones will one day see him in heaven.
Members of the church, which draws as many as 5,000 worshippers each Sunday, were stunned, but they were rushing to help the family, said lead pastor Brian Bloye.
He said Pray loved his family deeply, often going on “dates” with his wife and catering to the individual needs of his children: Noah, 8; Halle, 6; and Carson, 2.
Bloye said he will speak from the pulpit Sunday of the loss.
“People ask the why question,” he said. “I don’t claim to have the answer. There are things about God I don’t understand. But I know I trust him.”
The church posted the news of Pray’s death on its website and Facebook page, where hundreds of people posted comments in memory of Pray.
Paul Richardson, a fellow pastor and friend, said Pray planned for church services weeks and even months in advance, while continuing to improve his musical talents.
“It’s one of those rare personalities. He was very present in whatever he was doing,” Richardson said. “Because of that, he was able to give his best to every moment.”
Pray was also athletically gifted, earning all-state honors as a high school football player in Arkansas. He later turned to cycling. The route he was on Wednesday was one he often rode, Richardson said.
Buster Pray, 56, said that in the wake of Andrew’s death, the family watched a recent video recording of him at a church service, singing a song he loved called “10,000 Reasons.” The last verse was particularly moving.
“And on that day when my strength is failing, the end draws near and my time has come,
Still my soul will sing your praise unending, ten thousand years and then forever more.”