In Memoriam: Andrew Pray
Yesterday was Andrew Pray’s 31st birthday. Today, the first of two memorial services for Andrew Pray will be held in Dallas, Georgia. The second service will be this Thursday at Cross Church Pinnacle Hills in Northwest Arkansas. Then Andrew’s body will be laid to rest at Pinnacle Memorial Gardens.
I received word last Wednesday that Andrew Pray had been tragically killed while cycling near his home in the Atlanta metro city of Dallas.
These are two words that describe what hit me. I began fishing for more info, hoping – praying – that this was some terrible mistake. I immediately thought of Courtney, his wife. Then his three kids, all eight years of age and younger. Then I thought of his parents, Buster and Martha. Then his sister, Mandi. Then Courtney’s parents, Jim and Becky Fletcher. All of these faces came rushing to my mind in mere seconds and then the heart wrenching grief began.
I’ve known Andrew and Courtney since they were teenagers in high school. I’ve always known them to be in love. And so it was NO surprise to anyone when Andrew asked his high school sweetheart to marry him and run away into the ministry.
I was 26 years old when I became the head Bible teacher at Shiloh Christian School. I was fairly fresh out of seminary and while I was cutting my teeth on ministry in a Christian school setting, I had no idea that the many kids I would teach over the next nine years would become some of the most special people I would ever know. Near the top of this list is Andrew Pray. I refuse to speak of Andrew in the past tense in this post because Andrew is NOT past tense. While his body no longer moves and breathes, Andrew is more alive now than ever before.
Andrew taught himself how to play guitar in high school. I began to use him in our weekly student chapel services when he was in 9th grade. By the time he was a sophomore, his skill at playing and singing led to a transition whereby Andrew was leading the entire secondary school in chapel worship on a weekly basis. Andrew was also a GREAT football player. I can vividly remember watching and cheering for him on Friday nights as the Saints dominated whoever was in their way. I remember with particular fondness one play where Andrew literally bowled over the entire defensive line and secondary, breaking tackle after tackle as he trudged his way over 50 yards for a touchdown. The crowd went crazy over that play, and we were still talking about it the following Monday in class.
During his junior and senior years, he was “the man” in chapel, along with prodigy Jonathan Walker (student producer and keyboard man extraordinaire). Each week, Andrew would lead worship and then I would preach to the students. In a very real sense, Andrew was my first worship pastor ever. And here is what made Andrew so special. Very, very few high school students have the skill to lead the worship of 300+ students on a weekly basis. Andrew had the skill. But even fewer students have a still more important quality necessary to lead ones peers…respect. Andrew was one of those very rare kids who had the leadership skill, humble attitude, and teachable spirit that his peers would actually follow. In fact, it felt so natural. At one point in this remarkable season of chapel worship, Andrew and Jonathan even led us to record and produce a live CD of chapel worship, something that has not been repeated since at Shiloh Christian School.
Then there was Courtney. Beautiful, sweet, Jesus-shining, Courtney. With the voice of an angel (and I am very, very serious) she would often join Andrew on stage in leading worship. I remember we had to be “careful” not to overuse Courtney because we did not want other students thinking Andrew was playing favorites and that others couldn’t sing too. But it was all so natural and “right” when they were leading together.
And it was natural and “right” for them to worship side-by-side as Andrew moved into professional worship ministry. In fact, Courtney and Andrew sang alongside one another at West Ridge Church in Dallas, Georgia, where Andrew has been serving these last two years. Rarely have I witnessed the love that these two share with each other. So natural. So right. So much like God to gift them to each other and to us. So much like God to gift them three wonderful and beautiful children.
And so this hurts. It really hurts. As a pastor, I have shared much pain and grief with many people. This one, though, is personal. I love Andrew as a dear brother in Christ. I am so very, very proud of him and for all he has given of himself to the Kingdom. They don’t come any better than Andrew Pray. This is a testimony to his parents, Buster and Martha. I hurt deeply for them. A parent should never have to bury a child, and 31 years is simply not long enough. I hurt for Mandi, another one of my former students and a remarkable young woman in and of herself. I ache for Courtney and all she has lost on this side of eternity. I shed tears for their three children. My heart is broken for Jim and Becky, Courtney’s wonderful parents. I know ALL of these people. Not just casually, but I know them “through the years” having had the honor and privilege of being able to touch Andrew and Courtney’s lives in some small way.
Please say a prayer for the Prays and the Fletchers. If you know Andrew you know that my words fall short. If you never met Andrew, you need to make sure you he’s on your short list of “must meets” when you get to heaven.
Links for Local News Reports of Andrew’s Death