New Birth Missionary Baptist Church’s senior pastor Eddie L. Long has died, according to the church.
He was 63 years old.
"Today it is with great sadness I announce that our bishop has transitioned,” Bishop Christopher C. Smith said.
The expectant crowd, many already informed by social media and text messages, wailed and shrieked at the official announcement.
"He's no longer in pain,” Smith continues. "He's no longer dealing with the complications that he had to deal with."
A statement released by the church Sunday morning confirms Long died early Sunday after “a gallant private fight with an aggressive form of cancer.”
There had been much speculation about Long’s health after he posted a video last year of him looking extremely thin. He never publicly disclosed the nature of his illness.
Twelve-year church member Nia Pillow, 20, said Long was more than a bishop to her. The film artist and cinematographer said he helped launch her on her career path when she was 13 and asked to help operate the church cameras.
People thought she was too young, she said.
"Everybody said no, but Eddie Long said ‘yes," Pillow said.
The statement adds Long maintained his commitment to God as he proclaimed that cancer would not kill his faith nor his spirit.
Long was absent at several services during recent months but was present during Christmas and New Year’s Eve services.
First Lady Elder Vanessa Long, Bishop Long’s wife of 27 years said she is confident through her belief in God that her husband is now resting in a better place.
“Although, his transition leaves a void for those of us who loved him dearly, we can celebrate and be happy for him, knowing he’s at peace,” she said.
Long delivered his final message to New Birth as the church ushered in 2017.
“He told the church that God was already working in our favor and what we have been praying for was already manifested,” the statement says.
Long was named in a 2010 lawsuit by former New Birth members Anthony Flagg, Spencer LeGrande, Jamal Parris and Maurice Robinson, who alleged the bishop used his influence, trips, gifts and jobs to coerce them into sexual relationships.
The court case was dismissed and Long settled out of court.
Aaliyah Butler, 41, said Long had helped her personally.
The mother of four, who was leaving the church with her young daughter Sunday after the announcement of Long's death, said he "mentored" her oldest son, now grown, when he was younger and had gotten into "some trouble."
Long talked to the boy, Butler said, "and I think his mentorship helped lead him on a direct path."
Now, 24, her son is trying to start his own used car sales business.
Butler addressed the molestation allegations indirectly, referring to them as the 2010 "attack," which to her was against not only Long but all Christians.
"A lot of people left; a lot of people stayed," she said, adding that she never considered leaving the church she has attended for 17 years. She also said she will not leave now that Long is gone, though, she said, "it is a sober moment for us."
Long is survived by his wife, First Lady Elder Vanessa Long, four children: Eric, Edward, Jared and Taylor; and three grandchildren.
The family appreciates support and respect of their privacy as they prepare along with New Birth for the homegoing service to honor Bishop Long. The date and other details will be announced in the near future.