Bernard C. Yates, pastor of Zion Hope Primitive Baptist Church died

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Pensacola lost a respected clergyman last weekend whose impact went beyond the walls of his church and beyond denominational and religious boundaries.

Elder Bernard C. Yates pastor the Zion Hope Primitive Baptist Church for 35 years, touching institutions, people, and many aspects of the city’s larger church.

“He was a visionary for Pensacola,” said Bynium Jefferson, chairman of the deacon ministry at Zion Hope Primitive Baptist Church.

Yates, 64, died Saturday at his Pensacola home. His family members who refused to comment for the purposes of this article during their mourning said the cause of death was cardiac arrest.

“Not only has he influenced the people in his ward, but also other pastors and churches in the Pensacola area,” Jefferson said. “Elder Yates worked to improve this entire ward.

“He will be missed.”

Yates was the primary force behind the growth of Zion Hope into one of the largest churches in Escambia County and one of the most dominant African American religious institutions in the metropolitan area – arguably the “predominant” ones.

For over a decade, Yates participated annually as a Bible exhibitor at the Florida State Primitive Baptist Convention, which helped build his reputation across Florida.

And as the two-time national president of Primitive Baptist Convention USA Inc., Yates’ name and proven status as a strong leader were known in religious circles in all 50 states.

But it was in Pensacola that its reach extended beyond the church. At the time of his death, Yates was on the board of directors at Ascension Sacred Heart Hospital.

“I recommended him and wanted him on the Scared Heart Board to help answer the question, ‘How do we start reducing social determinants in healthcare?’ said prominent businessman Quint Studer, “Because Pastor Yates was a problem solver.

“He’s done so much in the community, like food drives, and done so much to improve people’s education. It wasn’t just about Sundays, ”Studer continued. “It was about being there for the people in the church seven days a week.”

Elder Bernard C. Yates pastor the Zion Hope Primitive Baptist Church in Pensacola for 35 years.

Yates was born on February 20, 1956 in Mobile, Alabama. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Bishop College in Dallas, Texas, and a master’s degree in theology from Liberty University before pastoring the Mount Lebanon Primitive Baptist Church in Waxahachie, Texas.

He moved to Pensacola with his wife, Vonda Yates, in 1985 to pastor the small Zion Hope church of fewer than 300 regular believers.

However, news of Yates’ arrival spread quickly. People talked about the young, new, and meek pastor in Zion Hope in the soft voice that could lead to powerful, seductive, and careful modulations in sermons.

“He was a quiet person, but when we gave him the microphone and he was in the pulpit, he became a baller flyer,” Jefferson said as he laughed out loud as he remembered his friend. “He was really a great speaker. He made this church. “

As Yates became known as a public speaker, so too did his herd. The Zion Hope Primitive Baptist Church now has approximately 1,600 members.

While Yates’ style of preaching was never shy of creating a loud crescendo, it relied more on tempo, variation, and charm than volume – more like a hypnotist’s metronome than a downright clap of thunder.

“Around 2005 or 2006 I was told to be in church by 11 am to attend the midday service. Otherwise I wouldn’t get a place, ”said Studer. “I was amazed. By speaking in a low voice, he made you lean a little. It was almost like a racing car racing through the aisles. Start slowly in first gear – go up, up didn’t speak to you. It was like he’d taken you on the trip. “

Many longtime parishioners, such as activist Ellison Bennett, compared Yates’ sermon cadence to that of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“Yeah, very much like Dr. King,” said Bennett. “He wasn’t the type who would hit you over the head with a stick about religion.

“But more than that, he was a very caring person,” Bennett continued. “Not only was he concerned about social problems and, from a spiritual point of view, people associated with the body of Christ, he was also a good and honorable man.”

Yates began ministries in his church that focused on disenfranchised populations such as prisoners and abused women. He also set up ministries for the elderly, helped organize food and toy rides, and instructed the church choir to sing outside in a field and close enough to the Escambia District Jail for inmates to hear the music during the vacation.

In 2003, the Church added the $ 2.3 million The Center of Hope complex to its campus, which included a gym and classrooms to promote youth education and combat criminal behavior. According to Jefferson, Yates was the main fundraiser behind the project.

Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan once stood in for Yates in the middle of a Sunday service in front of churchgoers.

“I had the honor years ago of making Pastor Yates an Honorary Representative in the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office. I found he was more than just a pastor, he was one of those “go-to-leaders” in the church, “Morgan told the News Journal. “I had full confidence and confidence that Pastor Yates would address any issue that requires law enforcement intervention or an explanation of our actions. He knew I was never more than a phone call away. Our church suffered another significant loss with his death. “

Throughout all of this, Yates always mentored young and future pastors in order to be leaders in the African American community.

“He was my mentor,” Frederick Moultrie told the News Journal. “He was my father in church. When I got there in 2005, he was looking after 16 young pastors at the same time. “

Moultrie, who is now pastor of his own congregation at Shiloh Primitive Baptist Church, said he knows well over a dozen pastors in various churches who began their careers under Yates’ guidance.

“He was an example of a divine person,” said Moultrie. “His legacy will never die.

“People will – even if they don’t even know it – but people will see Pastor Yeats in their own pastors every Sunday for years – the pastors like me whom he taught.”

Yates is survived by his wife Vonda, daughter LaBrea Duffy, a son-in-law, and two grandchildren.

A memorial service is scheduled for Saturday at 11 a.m. at Zion Hope Primitive Baptist Church, followed by a tour of the church on Friday from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Colin Warren-Hicks can be reached at colinwarrenhicks@pnj.com or 850-435-8680.

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