A popular youth evangelist who preached at one of the nation’s largest Baptist youth camps July 5-9 has died of COVID pneumonia less than a month later.
Some parents had complained that their teenagers came home from Falls Creek Assembly with COVID infections, but the camp’s managers said those infections represented a small percentage of the 30,000 campers who attended over seven weeks.
The Baptist Messenger, the news outlet affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, was among multiple media outlets reporting the death of evangelist Wade Morris Aug. 3. Falls Creek Assembly, located in the Arbuckle Mountains of south central Oklahoma, is owned by the state Baptist convention.
Although it was not clear when Morris first experienced symptoms of COVID, his death occurred 25 days after the end of the camp where he was the keynote speaker. He had returned to his home in Birmingham, Ala., and was reported to have died in a hospital there. The typical course of a severe COVID infection that results in pneumonia and death is reportedly two to four weeks.
“We are heartbroken to learn that Wade Morris passed away,” said Brian Hobbs, Oklahoma Baptists’ communications director. “His life, speaking ministry and evangelism in Oklahoma and across the country, through annual preaching at camps and other church events, have forever impacted countless young people. … We are praying for his family and church family in Alabama, as we put our faith in the Lord at this difficult time.”
Wade Morris, 51, was an avid runner who completed nearly 20 marathons.
Baptist Press reported that Morris, 51, was an avid runner who completed nearly 20 marathons. He had been “battling the virus and resulting pneumonia in the hospital since mid-July. Baptist Press was unable to confirm whether he had received the COVID-19 vaccine.”
As the summer progressed and the Delta variant of COVID-19 surged across the country, parents began reporting that their children were coming home from Falls Creek with the disease, according to a report in The Oklahoman.
“COVID-19 appears to have struck more than one church youth group during the Falls Creek summer camp season, which ended on July 30,” the Oklahoma City newspaper reported. “In the last few weeks of camp, several metro-area Southern Baptist churches sent out emails and posted social media statements telling their members that they were concerned about the spread of COVID-19 at Falls Creek and church activities had been canceled for several days to limit the spread of the virus.”
The state Baptist convention issued a statement the last week of camp that said: “Like other organizations operating large events this summer, we adhere to strict protocols to protect the safety and health of our staff and campers. We constantly review and revise our protocols as the situation warrants. As the summer has unfolded, many areas of the United States, including Oklahoma, have seen COVID-19 cases increase. Having hosted around 4,000 participants each week, the number of positive COVID cases remains statistically low.”
Falls Creek is not the only church camp to experience COVID outbreaks this summer. A Houston TV station reported July 19 that 156 people tested positive for COVID after attending a camp with Clear Creek Community Church of League City, Texas. At least 20 of those were reported to be breakthrough infections among people who were fully vaccinated.